Juarez and Samaras put Lennon's Bhoys in the driving seat
FC Utrecht 0
THE home crowd did not get the chance to sing 'You'll Never Walk Alone' at Celtic Park last night.
The stadium announcer seemingly misjudged the slot for his pre-match medley, which was truncated by the kick-off of this Europa League first-leg play-off meeting with Utrecht -- but there's a good chance they'll get to boom their anthem through the tournament's group stage after a heartening display against the Eredivisie side.
First-half goals from Efrain Juarez and Georgios Samaras left Celtic well set up for Thursday's return leg.
The Celtic support got their first sight of Swedish international centre-back Daniel Majstorovic in the green and white jersey as he replaced the suspended Jos Hooiveld alongside Glenn Loovens at the heart of the Celtic back line. Manager Neil Lennon had put insurance in front of his untested central defensive partnership in the form of Juarez and Scott Brown.
The affair was far from a slogging match in midfield. To use coaching parlance, the game had 'gone long' from the start and the stretch of play meant space and opportunities for both sides.
In Utrecht's case, Jacob Malenga was offered two opportunities, either of which he might easily have scored from.
Utrecht almost paid for their profligacy as Samaras put Shaun Maloney in for a stabbed effort that was blocked on the line by Michel Worm but they paid the price a couple of minutes further down the line when they were speared by a beautifully threaded pass from Beram Kayal, edged on by Samaras into the path of Juarez, who had made a splendid forcing run from midfield. The Mexican World Cup player tamed the ball as he drew Vorm and beat him with a crisp rising drive.
There was still scope for a scare before Celtic doubled their advantage. It was duly supplied by Jacob Lensky from a corner kick which he met with a header that skipped past, alarmingly close to the post.
Celtic, though, celebrated their reprieve with a second goal, manufactured by Cha Du-Ri and finished by Samaras, who was allowed remarkable latitude on the far side of the six-yard box, where he killed the ball on his chest and finished with a raking low drive into the far corner of the net.
To ease their passage in next week's return they required either a third goal or to keep a clean sheet and they were reminded how easily the tone of the tie could change after the break when Edouard Duplan floated a header over Lukasz Zaluska, forcing the Pole to reach underneath his crossbar to tip over.
Lennon reshuffled his pack midway through the second half when he withdrew Kayal and sent on James Forrest. Forrest kept Worm active with a shot and header, but Celtic were unable to force any further breaches in the Utrecht defence. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
- Cillian Sheridan made his debut for CSKA Sofia last night when he made a 57th-minute substitute appearance against TNS. The former Celtic man couldn't get on the scoresheet but he should feature in the group stages of the Europa League as Sofia built a 3-0 first-leg lead over Bohemians' Champions League conquerors.