Thursday, August 30, 2018
UEFA Europa League Play-Off, second leg
Celtic Park, Glasgow
(Griffiths 27, McGregor 53, Ajer 60)
LEIGH Griffiths scored his 100th goal for the Hoops as Celtic swept aside Lithuanian champions FK Suduva 3-0 at Paradise. Brendan Rodgers’ side found their attacking rhythm with a convincing performance to book their place in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League.
Griffiths opened the scoring with a wonderful free-kick in the first half and Callum McGregor doubled the lead early in the second. Kristoffer Ajer then rounded off the scoring with his first goal for the club.
Brendan Rodgers made three changes to side that defeated Hamilton Accies on Sunday, with Scott Sinclair, Mikey Johnston and Olivier Ntcham all returning to the starting XI in place of James Forrest, Tom Rogic and Moussa Dembele.
The Lithuanian champions arrived in Glasgow needing a goal in order to cancel out Celtic’s advantage from the first leg, but the visitors struggled to get the ball out their own half on the rare occasions that they did have possession.
Scott Sinclair was first to test Ivan Kardum in the Suduva goal shortly after kick-off but the Englishman couldn’t keep his shot down and it flew a couple of yards over the crossbar. Ntcham followed suit with a similar effort from 20 yards but the Frenchman’s effort was also just off target.
Celtic gradually started to be more efficient with the possession they enjoyed and began creating better goalscoring opportunities midway through the half. Griffiths passed up a great opportunity to put Celtic ahead when the Suduva defence failed to properly clear a cross into their box.
The ball fell to the Scotland striker on the penalty spot but his quick-fire shot was straight at the keeper.
He soon made amends from a free-kick, though, after Callum McGregor was brought down around at the 20-yard mark.
Griffiths, as he has done on more than one occasion, stepped up and delivered with an excellent shot, lifting the ball over the wall and into the bottom corner for his 100th Celtic goal.
Sinclair nearly extended the lead when Ntcham’s flashing cross into the box came to him at the back post. He took a touch and readied a shot from inside the six-yard box, but the Suduva keeper pounced off his line to save.
McGregor came agonisingly close to scoring right before the break when Kieran Tierney played a wonderful ball down the left wing for him to run on to. He cut into the box and tried to curl the ball past the keeper from a tight angle but it was just wide of the left-hand post.
Celtic came out for the second half looking to add to their lead early on, and the goal didn’t take long to come, with McGregor proving successful in doubling Celtic’s lead just over five minutes from the restart.
He collected the ball inside the area and calmly placed it beyond Kardum.
With the momentum of the second goal, Celtic moved up a gear and began pilling the pressure on the Lithuanian side with lots of promising attacking play coming from either wing.
McGregor’s excellent footwork and burst of pace troubled Suduva and he almost set Griffiths up for his second of the night when he cut the ball back for his team-mate but the Hoops striker couldn’t get a clean connection on the cross.
Suduva’s confidence and desire seemed to deteriorate as the second half progressed and Brendan Rodgers’s side, sensing weakness, turned up the heat. They dominated possession and continued to punish the Lithuanian champions’ defensive frailties with some impressive attacking play.
The visitors were beaten again when Kristoffer Ajer met Griffiths’ deep cross towards the back post with a looping header that crept past the keeper for his first Celtic goal.
Ryan Christie, on for Griffiths, then set up MIkey Johnston with an excellent opportunity to score his first senior goal when he broke away with the ball near the halfway line and slipped a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of the young winger. But the resulting shot was straight at the keeper.
Christie himself came close to adding his name to the score-sheet near the end of the game, as did Sinclair, but it was Ajer who came closest, jinking into the box and only denied bya good save from the keeper.
Celtic’s Europa League group opponents will be decided in tomorrow afternoon’s draw at 12noon (Celtic Park time), while the team’s focus will be firmly on this Sunday’s Glasgow derby at Paradise.
CELTIC (4-1-2-3) Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, Ajer, Tierney (Izaguirre 69); Brown; Ntcham, McGregor; Johnston (Hayes 78), Griffiths (Christie 64), Sinclair.
Not Used: Bain, Gamboa, Rogic, Forrest
FK SUDUVA (4-5-1) Kardum; Svrljuga, Gajduchik, Jankauskas, Slavickas; Gotal (Kasparavicius 73), Zivanovic, Cadenovic (Leimonas 55), Acevedo, Offenbacher (Verbickas 79); Cicilia
Not Used: Aleksandrov-Ridley, Cinikas, Matulevicius, Vezevicius