From Tallinn to Transylvania as Celtic’s Long and Winding Road to UEFA CL Continues

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CELTIC scored early on and then in the last few minutes of this second leg Champions League qualifier in Tallinn to secure the 2-0 win over the Estonian Champions Nomme Kalju to pick up their fourth Champions League qualifying victory of the new season and set up a tougher challenge next week against the Romania Champions Cluj.

Managed by former Chelsea star Dan Petrescu, Cluj hail from Transylvania and tonight they negotiated the trick trip to Israel to draw 2-2 with Maccabi Tel Aviv to the tie 3-2 on aggregate.

Mikey Johnston was the stand-out for Neil Lennon’s side in Tallinn and the tricky winger forced the opening gaol when Nomme Kalju defender Aleksandr Kulinits beat Leigh Griffiths to a Johnston cross only to see his touch role into his own net. With ten minutes on the clock Celtic could lose six goals and still go through and while there was never any manager of that happening, the game seemed to drop a level into something akin to a pre-season friendly played in third gear.

Craig Gordon was competent in the Celtic goal and had a busier second half than Neil Lennon would have appreciated. Olivier Ntcham had one of those nights when he was interested enough to play reasonably well while Christopher Jullien looks like he is still somewhat short of first team sharpness. He could have scored from some excellent Leigh Griffiths deliveries – suddenly we are a threat from corners again after a few years of frustration in that department.

Ntcham was in the mood in Tallinn

Lewis Morgan came onto a game after some early slackness while Anthony Ralston was sold, if unspectacular at right back. Leigh Griffiths worked hard, was always looking for a goal and his touch and combination play looked fine. Much more to follow from his this season.

Neil Lennon brought Scotty Sinclair, Marian Shved and Ryan Christie on replacing Johnston, Bitton and Ntcham and it was Shved who made the biggest impact. He should have scored after being set up by Morgan but delayed slightly thus allowing the keeper to save the one on one. But he was not to be denied, curling in an effort to the top left hand corner in stoppage time, after Celtic had survived a few scares.

Craig Gordon had no intention of picking the ball out of the back of the net on his first competitive game under Neil Lennon and when the home side had their chances, often as a result of Celtic defensive slackness, Gordon stood firm to deny them.

Now it’s on to Transylvania next Wednesday where Dan Petrescu and Neil Lennon can join forces to creative UEFA for making their sides go through these qualifiers just to reach the so called Champions League.

Cluj’s home crowd was very small last week against Maccabi Tel Aviv and hopefully their support will stay away next Wednesday too. It will be Celtic’s toughest task to date but so far it’s played 4 won 4 and on we go. Celtic’s long and winding road to the Champions League continues…

Man of the Match Mikey Johnston

Tonight’s Man of the Match – Mikey Johnston, who showed exactly why he’s keeping Scotty Sinclair out of the Celtic starting eleven.

CELTIC: Gordon; Ralston, Simunovic, Jullien, Bolingoli; Brown, Bitton (Shved 70), Morgan, Ntcham (Christie 84), Johnston (Sinclair 61); Griffiths.
Unused Subs: Bain, Ajer, Hayes, Edouard.

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