Celtic survive Astana scare to secure £30m reward
Astana 4 Celtic 3 (Celtic win 8-4 on agg)
Celtic have secured a £30million payday after booking a place in the Champions League group stages despite suffering their first defeat of the season in their play-off second leg against Astana.
The Hoops' progress was never in serious doubt following their 5-0 thrashing of the Kazakhstan champions at Parkhead last week; however, there were some nervy moments in a pulsating encounter at the Astana Arena.
Celtic's 19-year-old defender Kristoffer Ajer, in for injured Jozo Simunovic, deflected a shot from defender Dmitri Shomko past goalkeeper Craig Gordon in the 26th minute to give the Kazakh side a glimmer of hope. That was quashed eight minutes later when Scott Sinclair curled in the equaliser.
Two goals in a minute at the start of the second half brought the home side back to life and when Ghanaian Patrick Twumasi grabbed his second the visitors were on the ropes before late goals from Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths confirmed Brendan Rodgers side were into the group stages. If anything, the Scottish champions looked more like getting the first goal in the early exchanges.
Sinclair and Callum McGregor both had good efforts as Celtic moved with menace. The home side got in front slightly against the run of play when Shomko edged towards the Celtic box and drilled in a left-footed drive which came off Ajer leaving Gordon with no chance.
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Astana's fans were energised but that should have been extinguished just after the half hour when Sinclair curled the ball high past the Astana stopper Nenad Eric and into the far corner before running to take the acclaim of the couple of hundred travelling Hoops fans.
Serikzhan Muzhikov's early second-half goal came after an uncharacteristic mistake by Scott Brown in giving away possession then heading a cross on to the Astana player who poked the ball in from close range to re-energise the hosts.
A minute later the unmarked Twumasi headed a Shomko cross past Gordon and suddenly some hope was restored although four more goals were required.
Griffiths missed a great chance when he controlled a Kieran Tierney cross before thrashing the ball over the bar and looked further aghast seconds later as Twumasi raced in from the right and squeezed the ball past Gordon from a tight angle. There was bedlam among the home fans.
Eric made a fine save from Griffiths' free-kick just before Gordon prevented Twumasi and Muzhikov adding further to Astana's lead.
Twumasi then blazed over the bar from 10 yards but on an 80th-minute break Ntcham steered a shot past Eric which allowed everyone in a green and white to breathe more comfortably, before Griffiths, with two minutes remaining, scored on the break.