Stephen Welsh earns his Champions League wings in Red Bull Arena - but Celtic fail to sparkle in Leipzig loss

Celtic centre half Stephen Welsh keeps the ball off RB Leipzig striker Andre Silva in the Red Bull Arena tonight
Celtic centre half Stephen Welsh keeps the ball off RB Leipzig striker Andre Silva in the Red Bull Arena tonight

RED Bull, according to their advertising slogan, gives you wings.

Could Stephen Welsh earn his wings in the Champions League match against a Bundesliga club who are owned by the soft drink manufacturer tonight?

Or would the young Scot fall flat against a German outfit whose play in the continental game’s elite competition has often been sparkling in the past?

Those were the questions every Celtic supporter was asking as the Champions League match against RB Leipzig got underway without Cameron Carter-Vickers.

The United States internationalist has been nothing short of a colossus in the heart of the Parkhead side’s defence since arriving in the East End of Glasgow on loan from Spurs last summer.

Carter-Vickers’ absence – he has been out with an unspecified injury since before the international break – from the starting line-up in the Red Bull Arena was a blow to the visitors and reduced their chances of building on their draw against Shakhtar Donetsk in Poland last month.

Their Group F rivals’ front four comprised Timo Werner, Christopher Nkunku, Dominik Szoboszlai and Andre Silva – a quartet who collectively cost their employers over €80m.

Ange Postecoglou, who also had to field Mortiz Jenz due to Carl Starfelt being sidelined, expressed confidence that Welsh would relish his Champions League debut when he spoke to BT Sport before kick-off.

But the Greek-Australian coach acknowledged how demanding it would be for the 22-year-old, who had made just four appearances in the 2022/23 campaign, to make his bow in the group stages in such a difficult away fixture.

“There are no words that are going to replicate what he is going to go through,” said Postecoglou. “But it is a great opportunity for him. That is why they all play. They want the opportunity to perform at the highest level.

“Welshy gets the opportunity tonight. Whether it’s your first game or your 20th game, the Champions League will challenge you at every moment. So you need to embrace that and I am sure Welshy will do well.”

The early signs were not exactly promising and hinted at what was to come during the course of the 90 minutes; Marco Rose’s men almost scored twice in the opening exchanges after lapses in concentration by the Coatbridge-born centre half.

He failed to cut out a Werner through ball to Nkunku and then allowed Nkunku to ghost in front of him and get on the end of a Mohamed Simakan pass seconds later.

Welsh was fortunate Celtic were not 2-0 down after two minutes. Things did not improve greatly. He gave away a free-kick just outside his penalty box soon after when he clumsily brought down Silva and was lucky Szoboszlai struck the wall.

Callum McGregor and his team mates continued, despite going agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock themselves more than once, to ride their luck at the back in Saxony.

Nkunku – the Bundesliga Player of the Season and one of the hottest properties in the European game - took advantage of a gaping hole in the middle of the park to net after being sent through by Simakan.

His exquisite chipped finish was only disallowed after a VAR check showed that his big toe had been offside.

However, Welsh, who was not at fault for the opener the French internationalist fired beyond Joe Hart in the 27th minute, recovered well from his turbulent start and had his good moments.

In added on time at the end of the first-half, he forced Silva inside just as the Portuguese striker was poised to shoot and was then well placed to head a deflected David Raum cross clear. Those interventions allowed Celtic to draw level through Jota in the second.

Welsh is coached by a former Scotland centre half who will forever be remembered for his heroics against a European giant at a tender age – assistant manager John Kennedy starred in a 0-0 draw with Barcelona in the Nou Camp in the last 16 of the UEFA Cup when he was just 20 back in 2004.

The Scotland Under-21 internationalist will not attain the same cult hero status as his mentor after this outing. The defeat means the Scottish champions have a fight on their hands to get into the Europa League knockout rounds never mind the Champions League knockout rounds.

Still, he can be proud of how he acquitted himself at times against a side which reached the semi-finals of this tournament three seasons ago, against some genuinely world-class footballers, and he will learn an enormous amount from the experience.

Would Celtic have fared better if Carter-Vickers had been available? Very possibly. But Hart gifted the home team their all-important second goal with a careless unforced error. It was poor, needless and costly by the former England keeper.

Mistakes are, as Welsh will now be well aware, punished ruthlessly at this high level.