Ange Postecoglou praised his Celtic players after they went close to pulling off a win away to Bayer Leverkusen.
The Hoops led 2-1 until the 82nd minute but ultimately lost 3-2 to the Bundesliga side as their hopes of Europa League progress were ended by the concession of two late goals in Germany.
They will drop into the Conference League after Christmas, with their sixth and final group match against Real Betis at Celtic Park next month now effectively a dead rubber.
Nonetheless, Postecoglou was proud of the way Celtic competed against a Leverkusen side he admits are currently on a different level to his own.
He said: “It is a tough one to take. We kinda hung in there and gave ourselves a chance to pull off a great result but ultimately they’re a good team and we didn’t finish the game off in the way we could have. Credit to the players because Leverkusen are a fantastic team and we came to their back yard and gave them a game.
“We weren’t able to control the game the way we wanted because they have quality in their side and they’re always a threat on the counter-attack so we had to be a bit wary. We hung in there and Joe (Hart) made some good saves.
“The back four worked really hard to keep us in the game and then we got our goals. We just couldn’t hang on in the end which was disappointing for the players because they put in a massive effort but there’s still a gap between us and them, and that’s what we need to bridge.”
Although they have lost three of their five matches so far, Postecoglou has been pleased with the way Celtic have tried to play on the front foot in the Europa League. He believes they will only get better the more they face top European sides.
He said: “In all our European games we’ve taken it to some very good opponents. We know there’s a gap between us and the best but we’ll bridge that gap if we keep taking this approach whenever we play these teams. They (Leverkusen) knocked us off 4-0 at home but we gave them a bit of a fright here. Hopefully next time the gap’s even smaller.”
Postecoglou felt his team did their travelling support justice with their efforts in the BayArena.
The manager said: “The fans were unbelievable. I’m hoping in their disappointment they walk from here tonight knowing the guys in the green and white hoops gave everything for them tonight. I can’t fault the players – they gave me everything.”
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