AFTER the Celtic players and fans, Aberdeen manager Barry Robson was probably the most disappointed man in Scotland when he heard the score coming through from the Estadio Metropolitano a couple of weeks ago.
Celtic, hampered by the early dismissal of Daizen Maeda, had been roundly cuffed by six goals to nil by Diego Simeone’s rampant Atletico Madrid side. Just a few days later, Robson would take his men to Celtic Park after their own energy-sapping European tie, and he must have been wary that a backlash from the Scottish champions was likely.
It duly emerged, with the Dons going down by the same 6-0 scoreline in Glasgow as Celtic had done in the Spanish capital just a few days previously.
The hurt and anger that fuelled the routing of Aberdeen is still simmering at Celtic, particularly as focus shifts back to the Champions League this week, and a trip to Rome to take on Lazio on Tuesday evening.
Not only is there frustration at what goalkeeper Joe Hart called the ‘pumping’ at the hands of the Spaniards, but there is also lingering resentment at the win Lazio plundered through a last-gasp Pedro header when the teams met at Celtic Park in early October.
So, Celtic go on their travels this time with a determination to set a few records straight, not least of which, their appalling one on the road in this competition.
“It hurts, because we took a pumping, we really did,” Hart said.
“We felt like Atletico really wanted to hurt us after the performance we put in against them.
“In a sick way, that is the respect they showed us. They played at a very high standard, they really did.
“Alright, we went down to 10 men, but some of the finishing, some of the approach play and the way they dealt with us with 10 players, it felt like 11 v 10, it really did.
“That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but that’s not always the case, with 60 minutes left in the game when you’ve got 10 men the game finds a flow and it almost finds a lull.
“They kind of did their hard work early, but I think you’ve just got to give credit to a top European team with huge talent, and they put us to the sword. Just like we did [against Aberdeen]. You’ve got to smell blood, and then you’ve got to kill.
“We’ll have the feeling of unfinished business with Lazio from Celtic Park. Atletico’s is done. We’ve played them twice and won’t play them again this season.
“But with Lazio, we have a chance to show them what we can do. We want to score goals over there and not concede any.”
Hart is clearly still bristling at what happened last time out against Lazio, but that is not from any sense of injustice.
The goalkeeper is honest enough to admit that while Celtic have competed and shown up well from most of their fixtures in the Champions League this season – the Atletico game excepted – they have got from them precisely what they have deserved.
“It’s a pretty fair game in terms of you get the rub of the green sometimes, and sometimes you don’t,” he said.
“There can’t be any fluke or coincidence in what is going on at the highest levels. You can take an anomaly of an early cup exit, an away exit, or if I can reference the FA Cup, a third-round exit.
“Stuff like that, sometimes you don’t deserve, but in the Champions League, there isn’t any room for any other thought process other than you get what you deserve from what has gone on in the 100 minutes.
“I think I’m going to have to deal with facts unfortunately, and they are that we’ve not had it at the moments that we’ve needed it.
“You’ve got to keep giving yourselves opportunities and Tuesday is another huge opportunity for us to push ourselves and test ourselves as a team and what we are trying to do here, what we are trying to build, against a European team.
“It’s a special venue, a special occasion, and we don’t go in with any fear, we go in with excitement and wanting to be on the front foot.
“It’s tough [at this level]. [But] we’ve never felt out of our depth, and I’ve never felt out of my depth, but ultimately, we’ve fell on the wrong side of most results.
“So, it’s a hard one to assess really without sounding a bit unrealistic, because ultimately, if you line up the actual numbers, they are not great.
“But, if you are going to go by a game-by-game experience, I’ve pretty much enjoyed every single one.”
It would be nice though, to have more than just memories to show from Rome. The fans too, are hankering for something more tangible, with one supporter stating at last week’s AGM that all he wants for Christmas is a Celtic win in the Champions League.
“Tell me about it!” Hart said.
“I feel him, and we all feel the same.
“I don’t feel any sort of division when it comes to that. He might feel like that, and every Celtic supporter may well feel like that, but I think they see us putting everything we’ve got on the line at every opportunity.
“We’ve just got to keep believing. We trust in each other, we trust I the manager, and at some point, it’s going to happen.”
Despite their recent record, Celtic’s history at the Stadio Olimpico shows that a victory is far from outside the realms of possibility, and Hart draws inspiration from their win there in 2019.
“I’m aware of what happened last time, it was a big win,” he said.
“I’ve watched it. Big Fraser (Forster) made some amazing saves over the two games, and we got some goals. It looked like a special night in Rome.
“The beautiful thing about this club is that it has a rich history. But you also have the opportunity to constantly write yourselves into it. That’s how we see Tuesday.”