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Thursday 17 October 2019

Celtic press ahead to ensure Cluj lightning does not strike twice

Celtic 2 Cluj 0

Celtic's Odsonne Edouard celebrates scoring his side's first goal. Photo: PA
Celtic's Odsonne Edouard celebrates scoring his side's first goal. Photo: PA

Jamie Holland

Cluj triggered an existential crisis at Celtic when they knocked the Hoops out of the Champions League qualifiers with an extraordinary 4-3 victory at Parkhead in August, an unforeseen result that saw Neil Lennon subjected to condemnation which he labelled "hysterical".

His response was justified by events in this Europa League tie which saw Celtic go top of Group E with an assertive victory secured by goals from Odsonne Edouard and Mohamed Elyounoussi.

Celtic's Mohamed Elyounoussi in action with CFR Cluj's Andrei Burca. Photo: Reuters
Celtic's Mohamed Elyounoussi in action with CFR Cluj's Andrei Burca. Photo: Reuters

Celtic showed two changes from the personnel who started in the 1-1 draw with Hibernian at Easter Road on Saturday with Mauritz Bauer, victim of an ankle injury, on the bench alongside and replaced by Hatem Abd Elhamed, while Olivier Ntcham was also amongst the substitutes in a tactical switch that saw Elyounoussi brought in to play wide on the left.

News of Rangers' last-minute 2-1 defeat to Young Boys in Berne had circulated amongst the home crowd before kick-off and added to the imperative to secure victory.

When these sides met in August, Dan Petrescu's tactics included a high press from the start to prevent Celtic building a rhythm in their opponents' territory.

Banging Forewarned, the Scottish champions signalled their intent by pushing upfield immediately and within 10 minutes they were banging on the Cluj door when Christopher Jullien planted a header that was flush on target until Giedras Arlauskis blocked at the expense of a corner.

Celtic's Kristoffer Ajer rises for the ball with CFR Cluj's Billel Omrani. Photo: Reuters
Celtic's Kristoffer Ajer rises for the ball with CFR Cluj's Billel Omrani. Photo: Reuters

The French central defender was a clear and present danger but the surprise for Cluj was the contribution of Boli Bolingoli, who had been considered too much of a risk to be fielded against them on their Champions League visit.

When the breakthrough arrived, almost midway through the first half, it was the left-back who set it up at lung-bursting pace when he chased a threaded pass from Callum McGregor to deliver a perfect chip which was met with an equivalent header by Edouard.

James Forrest had been in rampaging form but was prone to an uncharacteristic tendency to put too much weight on his prompts.

Forrest remedied the flaw as the hour mark approached, to telling effect. Ryan Christie switched Celtic into attack with a cute step over which bore him on into the Cluj half, where he fed Forrest on the overlap. The Scotland winger surged into the penalty area and held up play to allow Elyounoussi to arrive, whereupon the Norwegian midfielder took a touch and struck a drive which was deflected sharply beyond Arluaskis.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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