Early Balde strike the difference as Reds miss a host of chances
Liverpool FC’s hopes of an unbeaten pre-season programme were dashed by defeat to Celtic.
A strike from Amido Balde after only 12 minutes proved the only goal as Brendan Rodgers’ side were beaten in their final warm-up friendly in Dublin.
Liverpool supporters made up the majority of the 50,000-plus crowd inside the Aviva Stadium.
But they could only watch on frustrated as their side, having racked up the goals this summer, frittered away a succession of chances to equalise against a largely second-string Celtic outfit.
There was at least the consolation of a second-half run-out for Daniel Sturridge, the striker’s first appearance since suffering ankle ligament damage while playing for England against the Republic of Ireland at Wembley in May.
Rodgers, though, will have been given plenty to ponder by a performance with familiar failings given the start of the Premier League season is less than a week away.
The game, billed as ‘the Dublin Decider’ by the proud organisers, was preceded by a live performance of Fields of Athenry, a song adopted by both sets of supporters, by its writer Pete St John.
But it was the strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone that brought every fan to their feet, the rendition challenging the one heard in Melbourne a fortnight earlier for spine-tingling raw emotion.
With Celtic having already started their domestic season and in midweek earned progress to the final Champions League qualifying round, manager Neil Lennon selected a primarily second-choice team containing a clutch of youngsters.
By contrast, Rodgers named a starting XI that could conceivably line up for the Premier League opener at home to Stoke City next Saturday.
Included was Stewart Downing, despite West Ham United having opened talks aimed at signing the England international for a fee of around £6million.
Any notion Celtic’s scratch side would give Liverpool an easy ride were banished in the 12th minute when the Scottish champions went ahead.
In attempting to make a tackle on the Liverpool right, Downing inadvertently found Balde who, having outfoxed Andre Wisdom with a clever piece of skill, fired a shot that hit the body of Simon Mignolet and looped into the net.
That tweaked Liverpool’s tail and the next 15 minutes saw only the fine goalkeeping of Lukasz Zaluska – and, it must be said, some indifferent finishing – prevented Rodgers’ side from building a commanding lead.
Seconds after Celtic’s opener, Downing nipped in ahead of Zaluska to a Philippe Coutinho cross but saw his shot blocked by Steven Mouyokolo from a right angle.
Zaluska then saved from Coutinho after the Brazilian was found by Glen Johnson’s delayed pass, clawed away a curling Downing effort and was grateful Johnson shot too close to him having been sent clear by Downing.
But after the initial response, Liverpool struggled for cohesion both in attack and defence, new boy Iago Aspas finding man-mountain Mouyokolo difficult to pass.
The Spaniard made way at the interval for the returning Sturridge who, with practically his first touch, proved a greater threat, shooting wide after good approach work from Johnson.
Liverpool continued to be wasteful. Downing forced his way to the byline down the right but his cutback was completely missed by Coutinho.
Kolo Toure then headed in a Steven Gerrard free-kick only to be correctly ruled offside – a point lost on the excited stadium announcer who declared the Ivorian had equalised while Celtic were taking the resultant free-kick.
And with Sturridge drawing a decent stop from Celtic substitute Fraser Forster at the near post, with each missed opportunity it was impossible not to consider a certain absent Uruguayan.
Toure failed to connect properly with a free header to Gerrard’s right-wing corner before the Celtic defence parted in front of Coutinho but the Brazilian skewed his shot horribly wide.
Substitute Jordon Ibe was denied by a last-ditch block from Stuart Findlay before Sturridge lobbed agonisingly wide having been found by Coutinho and then was inches away with a 25-yard piledriver.
Rodgers will no doubt hope Liverpool are saving their goals for when the real stuff begins next weekend.
CELTIC (4-4-2): Zaluska (Forster 46); Matthews, Lustig (Fisher 46), Mouyokolo, Izaguirre (Findlay 65); Kayal (George 84), Watt (L Henderson 84), McGeouch, Irvine; Stokes, Balde (Atajic 70). Subs: Herron. BOOKED: Stokes (foul).
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Wisdom, Toure, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard; Downing (Ibe 72), Allen (J Henderson 58), Coutinho; Aspas (Sturridge 46). Subs: Jones, Alberto, Assaidi, Coates, Borini, Sterling, Kelly, Flanagan.
REFEREE: Alan Kelly.