Celtic edge closer to knockout stages after 2-1 win over Astra


It won’t be remembered as one of Celtic Park’s most famous European nights, but the Hoops edged closer to the Europa League knockout stages with a crucial win in Group D.

Many anticipated a straightforward victory for Ronny Deila’s men, with Astra Giurgiu sitting pointless from their opening games. Yet the Romanian champions looked a threatening side, although Celtic were often architects of their own frailties.

Nevertheless, as Serbian forward Stefan Scepovic bagged his first goal for the club since arriving in August, they collected a vital three points.

The £2 million striker did waste several chances but Deila will be happy with his players’ performance.

The closure of the upper-tier didn’t stop the Parkhead faithful creating a decent atmosphere, but served as a visual reminder of the unappealing nature of the Europa League.

Despite Astra beginning the game confidently, Charlie Mulgrew nearly opened the scoring after a superb corner by Anthony Stokes – only to waste his free header over the bar.

Seidu Yahaya then forced Craig Gordon into action with a bullet strike from 20 yards out. The goalkeeper fumbled the shot before the ball was cleared to safety. Only seconds later though Gordon spared the blushes of a careless Celtic defence by denying Astra skipper Constantin Budescu’s shot with his leg.

Mulgrew’s poor pass then gifted Gabriel Enache with a great chance, only for him to blast wide.

Anthony Stokes nearly opened the scoring after a neat lay-off inside the box by Scepovic, but his shot was blocked from eight-yards.

The home support weren’t happy with the opening 45 minutes and voiced their disapproval with a chorus of jeers as the half-time whistle sounded.

Astra had been the dominant side and Deila’s men required a vastly improved performance in the second half to stand any chance of winning the match.

Lone striker Scepovic was then presented with two great opportunities to open the scoring after pinpoint crosses from Lustig and Izaguirre, only to somehow miss the target on both occasions.

Aston Villa loanee Aleksander Tonev soon replaced Callum McGregor and came close with an ambitious strike from 20 yards out on the hour mark.

As the game began to dwindle out, Astra started to believe they might nick their first point of the campaign.

Their next chance fell to Cristian Oros but he headed over Gordon’s bar.

Things were beginning to look insipid for Celtic before they finally took the lead on 73 minutes. Stokes’ fine delivery from a free kick found Scepovic at the far post who then fired his header into the back of the net, marking his first goal for the Scottish champions.

Incredibly, the Hoops then doubled their lead five minutes later after Astra goalkeeper Silviu Lung spilled Tonev’s weak cross in front of Stefan Johansen who then thundered his strike off the crossbar and into the net.

It looked game, set and match for Deila’s men until Enache capitalised by somehow bundling the ball past the faultless Gordon from a scrappy move.

It set for a nail-biting finish but no more drama unfolded as Celtic moved onto seven points and ever closer the last 32 of the competition.

CELTIC: Gordon; Lustig, van Dijk, Denayer, Izaguirre; Brown, Mulgrew (Wakaso 65); McGregor (Tonev 55), Johansen, Stokes (Kayal 76); Scepovic.

Not used: Zaluska, Ambrose, Matthews, Griffiths.

FC ASTRA: Lung; Pliatsikas, Youssef, Oros, Morais; Enache, Laban (Florescu 86), Seto (Fatai 76), Yahaya, William Amorim (Rus 85); Budescu.

Not used: Coman, Gaman, Chitu, Bukari.


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