Friday 14 December 2018

Callum McGregor the hero as Celtic earn deserved first leg win over Zenit St Petersburg

Celtic's Callum McGregor celebrates scoring his side's winner
Celtic's Callum McGregor celebrates scoring his side's winner Newsdesk Newsdesk

Celtic will take a 1-0 advantage to Russia next week after Callum McGregor earned the Hoops a narrow win over Zenit St Petersburg at Parkhead.

The first leg of the round-of-32 Europa League clash appeared to be heading for a stalemate in the closing stages.

But McGregor took Charly Musonda's lofted cross on his chest and sent a half-volley in off the bar 12 minutes from time.

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers told BT Sport 2: "I thought it was a brilliant performance from start to finish, a very mature performance.

"They've shown the personality and development of the team by keeping a clean sheet.

"I'm very proud of the team, but we're only halfway there."

Rodgers, whose side dropped out of the Champions League after finishing behind Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich, added: "That level of opponent we have come up against the last couple of years, it really tests you to the limit.

"It's very important you defend well in any game, whether it's a Scottish Premiership game or a Europa League or Champions League game. Defensively we were very strong tonight.

"We showed a great calmness with the ball and everyone contributed."

On a freezing night in the east end of Glasgow, it was an encouragingly fast start by Celtic as left-back Kieran Tierney led the charge.

In the seventh minute midfielder Olivier Ntcham fired wide from 12 yards after linking up with striker Moussa Dembele before playmaker McGregor drew a decent save from Lunev with a left-footed shot from inside the box.

Zenit looked off the pace as they struggled to build any attacks.

However, they sprang into action in the 14th minute and, from captain Domenico Criscito's cross, Hoops keeper Dorus de Vries blocked Anton Zabolotny's close-range flick, with Tierney eventually clearing off the line.

The home side were bossing possession and Zenit's defending grew increasingly desperate, though driven crosses from the impressive McGregor and Tierney found no takers in green and white.

Celtic came out for the start of the second half determined to make their possession pay off and the play quickly became stretched.

The visitors were unable to get their passing game going as Celtic nipped at their heels, denying space and time.

In the 55th minute in-form winger James Forrest drove into the Zenit box and made a yard for himself but his drive from 14 yards was blocked by stretching defender Emanuel Mammana.

As the pressure intensified, and Zenit dropped deeper, Lunev beat away a long-range effort by Eboue Kouassi.

The Russian side looked content to take the draw as the match entered the final 20 minutes, in which winger Charly Musonda took over from Kouassi to make his European debut.

And it was the on-loan winger from Chelsea who came up trumps in 12 minutes from time when he played in McGregor, who took a touch before lashing the ball high past Lunev from 12 yards out.

It was just reward for a fine performance and Celtic will now surely be more confident of qualifying than they were when the draw was made.

Who is your sportstar of the year?

Vote in the Irish Independent Sport Star Awards and you could win the ultimate sports prize.

Prizes include, a trip to Old Trafford to watch Man United take on Liverpool in the Premier League, tickets to Ireland's home games in the Six Nations, All Ireland football and hurling final tickets and much more.

Simply click here to register your vote

Online Editors

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport