Saturday 20 January 2018

Griffiths lights spark as Celtic flex their muscles in Brussels

Anderlecht 0 Celtic 3

Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths in action with Anderlecht's Leander Dendoncker. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine
Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths in action with Anderlecht's Leander Dendoncker. Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine

Roddy Forsyth

This was an outcome of significance for Brendan Rodgers and Celtic - neither of whom have found European football a greatly productive arena in recent years.

It was secured in this Champions League group stage contest thanks to a first-half strike by Leigh Griffiths, an own goal by Serigne Mbodji as the defender tried to block a Patrick Roberts drive and an injury-time bonus from Scott Sinclair. The result favours Celtic's hope of third place and a berth in the Europa League.

Celtic’s Callum McGregor in action with Anderlecht's Adrien Trebel. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
Celtic’s Callum McGregor in action with Anderlecht's Adrien Trebel. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

Rodgers made one change from the side which achieved a 2-0 victory in last weekend's Old Firm derby, with Olivier Ntcham starting instead of Stuart Armstrong for a tie that offered what looked like a reasonable prospect of a halt to lamentable statistics.

The book of numbers revealed that Celtic had won only a single Champions League group stage game in their 27 most recent attempts.

That was against Spartak Moscow in 2012 and it was also five years since Celtic had kept a clean sheet, in a goalless draw at home to Benfica, both results being achieved under Neil Lennon.

Anderlecht, meanwhile, were boosted by the inclusion of Lukasz Teodorczyk after the Polish striker passed a fitness test.

Celtic’s James Forrest in action with Anderlecht's Adrien Trebel. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
Celtic’s James Forrest in action with Anderlecht's Adrien Trebel. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

The opening stage included a surprise in the form of a five-man Anderlecht back line and what seemed to be a deliberate game-plan of allowing Celtic to have the ball upfield. However, the recalled Ntcham was alarmingly lax in his distribution.

The Frenchman nevertheless stuck to his task and, seven minutes before the break, sprung Kieran Tierney into space beyond Alexandru Chipciu for the full-back to drill a pass across the goalmouth into the path of the onrushing Griffiths, who had peeled away from Olivier Deschacht for an angled finish beyond Frank Boeckx.

Anderlecht were further discomfited by the loss of Uros Sajic, who had struggled for almost 20 minutes after being fouled by Scott Sinclair, who was very lucky to escape sanction. Nor could Teodorczyk find the target from two outstanding chances on either side of the interval.

On the first occasion, the Pole was played in beyond Craig Gordon's far post and might have got reward from his left foot, but shot across the box with his stronger right. His next opening was dead in front of goal but, when Gordon could only block a powerful effort by Sofiane Hanni, Teodorczyk scuffed the ball tamely wide.

Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths in action with Anderlecht's Dennis Appiah. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths in action with Anderlecht's Dennis Appiah. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

His profligacy was punished swiftly when Roberts suddenly sparked into life with a jink past Deschacht for a drive which ricocheted into the net off Mbodji, who had replaced Spajic just before the break.

Celtic's work was not yet done, because Brown pulled up with a hamstring strain and was replaced by Nir Bitton. Tom Rogic was next to depart. Callum McGregor took the Australian's place and should have rendered the outcome beyond dispute when put clear inside the box by an unselfish pass from Griffiths, but the midfielder took a heavy touch and was ambushed by Mbodji.

The third goal was merely postponed, as it turned out. Three minutes into injury time, Ntcham turned provider again, this time releasing Sinclair for a rising drive to make it 3-0 and seal a satisfying night for the Scottish champions. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths in action with Anderlecht's Kara Mbodji. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir
Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths in action with Anderlecht's Kara Mbodji. Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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