Lennon: We were lacking in the forward area
© AFP

Celtic manager Neil Lennon criticised his forwards for an insipid performance in their 1-0 defeat to Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA, which gives his side a major battle to qualify from the UEFA Champions League's Group H.

Despite dominating possession in the first half, Ajax were made to wait until the 51st minute to make the breakthrough when a wonderful passing move ended with Lasse Schone expertly guiding the ball past Fraser Forster.

Celtic improved after the goal but James Forrest, Anthony Stokes and Kris Commons all wasted chances as Frank de Boer's side picked up their first win of the campaign to gain revenge for their defeat in Glasgow a fortnight ago. The Scottish champions slipped to the bottom of Group H and Lennon was unhappy with a flat performance from the players up front.

"We were very flat first half and I think some players will have regrets about the game tonight, because they were nowhere near their best and at this level you can't have that," he said. "Fraser Forster made a good save from the free-kick and the De Jong header, but our play in general just wasn't like us. We looked second-best particularly in the forward area.

It's an opportunity lost, but all's not lost. We have to beat Milan now.
Neil Lennon

"It was a very disappointing first half but a better second half, and we had opportunities to score goals and we didn't take them. When Schone got the goal we were just starting to get a foothold in the game and we missed some decent opportunities.

"We were insipid in the first half, but in the second half we were a lot better and a lot more competitive and we created good chances, particularly on the counter-attack. Of course at 0-0 you are always encouraged by that. But goals change games and Ajax scored what they would say is a good goal but from our point of view is a poor goal.

"There are some positives tonight and there were some good performances, but predominately from players in my back four and midfield. There were opportunities where we could have done better with the final ball, and that's been a concern for the last few weeks now domestically and at this level as well.

"There wasn't a great deal in the game really, but our quality at the top end of the pitch at times was lacking tonight. We didn't take care of the ball particularly well in the final third at times and didn't pass it anywhere near as well as we can. The second half was better and we did have opportunities, but away from home in the Champions League you have to take them."

Lennon demands defeat of Milan
Celtic's 24th defeat in 26 Champions League away games means they prop up Group H on three points, a point behind Ajax and two behind AC Milan. Barcelona booked their place in the Round of 16 with a 3-1 win over the Italians, with Celtic now needing to defeat Milan in Glasgow in three weeks time if the Parkhead club are to avoid exiting the competition.

"It makes it very, very difficult to qualify, however the whole thing could flip around again if we beat Milan and Barcelona come here and take something off Ajax," Lennon said. "We have to beat Milan now. It is imperative that we do that to have any chance of qualification.

"We will have to play better, particularly looking on the first half evidence tonight, when we go back to Celtic Park. I need a bit more from some players, but we will look to Celtic Park now and try and turn things around again.

"We have to improve our away form. We played well in Milan. The first half we didn't play well tonight but we played better second half, but it's not enough. We didn't work the goalkeeper enough for my liking. It's an opportunity lost, but all's not lost."