Friday 22 November 2019

Lennon hails Celtic heroes


Jamie Holland

Neil Lennon described himself as "probably the proudest man in Europe" after Celtic's historic Champions League Group G victory over Spartak Moscow in the Luzhniki Stadium.

Georgios Samaras' last-gasp header gave Lennon's Bhoys their first away win in the group stages of European football's elite club competition -- their previous away victory in the European Cup proper came in 1986 when they beat Shamrock Rovers 1-0 before a capacity 18,000 at Milltown thanks to a goal from Murdo MacLeod. That long wait ended with a deserved victory for the Parkhead men.

Gary Hooper gave the visitors the lead in the 12th minute only for Spartak to take control courtesy for Emmanuel Emenike, who scored twice, once either side of the break.

After Spartak defender Juan Insaurralde was sent off just after the hour mark for preventing Hooper going clean through on goal, Celtic levelled when a drive from substitute James Forrest deflected into the net off Spartak captain Dmitri Kombarov.

A draw would have been a great result, but Celtic refused to settle for the point and Samaras headed home an Emilio Izaguirre cross to send the small band of Hoops fans -- and the Celtic bench -- wild with delight.

"I am probably the proudest man in Europe tonight," said Lennon. "I cannot speak highly enough of the players, they were magnificent. They played magnificent football at a very tough venue against an excellent side.

"The players showed great character and fortitude to come back after going behind just after half-time. I thought we thoroughly deserved to win it.

"We didn't start the game particularly well, we looked a bit nervous and our passing wasn't there for the first five or 10 minutes, but we had a quick break and scored a good goal.

"I thought Gary Hooper was world- class. He was just magnificent and the catalyst for a lot of good things we did tonight.

"People keep asking me about him playing for England -- well I think he showed how good he is tonight.

"But there were so many good performances -- Izaguirre, Ambrose, Wilson, Brown, Samaras. Commons got stronger as the game went on and James Forrest came on and gave us pace and quality."

Lennon added: "I think people underestimate Celtic. I don't think we get the respect we deserve, but maybe tonight's performance might change a few attitudes."

Celtic have four points from two games, but Lennon refused to get carried away with regards their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages.

He said: "We just have to play Barcelona home and away, but this is a huge step for the club.

"It is our first away win in the Champions League so we have broken a record.

"It is fantastic, but there is a lot of football to be played in the group.

"We are still novices in this tournament but a few more performances like that wouldn't do us any harm at all."

There was little surprise when Samaras was named in the Celtic starting XI, with Forrest starting on the bench.

Former Celtic favourite Aiden McGeady returned to the Spartak midfield after being rested for the 3-1 league win over Amkar.


The home side forced three corners in the first three minutes, the pressure ending when midfielder Kim Kallstrom barged his way into the Celtic box before firing high over the bar.

Spartak, who were unlucky to lose 3-2 in Barcelona on match-day one, had lost the services of goalkeeper Andriy Dykan to injury, his place taken by Sergei Pesyakov.

The No 2 'keeper had little chance with Hooper's well-taken goal, which stemmed from Kallstrom's reticence in a 50-50 tackle with Victor Wanyama.

The powerful Hoops midfielder played the ball wide to right-back Mikael Lustig and he delivered a low cross from which the former Scunthorpe striker clipped the ball in from around six yards.

The Scottish champions retained a threat going forward and in the 24th minute Hooper had the ball in the Spartak net again, this time with a header from a Samaras cross, only to see the flag up for offside.

As Spartak tried to get back into the match, Emenike got on the end of an Evgeni Makeev cross but headed the ball high over the bar from 10 yards.

Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster had his first real save to make, and a decent one at that, from defender Nicolas Pareja's curling free-kick from 25 yards.

It looked like Lennon's side would take a lead into the interval, but four minutes from the break Emenike knocked the ball past Forster from close range after being set up by Alkmaar Ari, who had latched on to a delightful long ball by Kallstrom.

And Celtic were reeling when Emenike grabbed his second goal three minutes into the second period.

Forster looked slow going down to deal with Ari's drive from long distance and, when he spilled it, Demy de Zeeuw pounced to play the ball across goal for the Nigeria striker to tap it in.

Celtic had a chance to level in the 58th minute when Charlie Mulgrew's free-kick from the right found the head of stopper Efe Ambrose, but he missed the target.

Then came the dismissal of Insaurralde, which was surrounded by some needless controversy.

The Spartak defender hauled Hooper back as he raced through on goal from Mulgrew's pass. At first French referee Tony Chapron waved play on, but then, after presumably taking some instruction from one of his officials, he showed the Argentinian the red card. Charlie Mulgrew's free-kick, when it was eventually taken, was punched away by Pesyakov, who dealt comfortably with Emilio Izaguirre's volley from the rebound.

There was more drama in the 72nd minute when Forrest's angled shot from 12 yards, after good work from Samaras and Hooper, was saved by Pesyakov before going in off Kombarov.

Celtic were in buoyant mood now and Pesyakov made good saves from Joe Ledley, who had replaced Mulgrew, and Hooper. Then, with the game in added time, Samaras rose to head Izaguirre's cross into the far corner.

Irish Independent

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