Saturday 18 January 2020

Rodgers hails 'belief' as Celtic squeeze through despite defeat in Israel

Hapeol Be'er Sheva 2 Celtic 0 Celtic win 5-4 on agg

Scott Brown celebrates his goal Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images
Scott Brown celebrates his goal Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images

Jamie Holland

Celtic reached the Champions League group stage for the first time in three years, but only after an enormous scare in Israel.

Brendan Rodgers' side were heavy favourites to see out the play-off second leg after their 5-2 victory at Parkhead last week, but were left sweating at the Turner Stadium.

Substitute Ben Sahar headed the Israeli champions ahead in the 20th minute and the rattled Hoops were two down on 48 minutes when a horrible mix-up between Saidy Janko and Gordon gifted Ovidiu Hoban a goal from a yard out, but the visitors held on.

Rodgers said his team took "a huge step and got their rewards", saying: "They added an extra percent to their mentality. We have built into them a belief that if you work hard and with an intensity. . . when you are stuck you can dig it out."

The Scottish champions go into tomorrow's group-stage draw breathing a huge sigh of relief, knowing they will earn more than £20m and receive a incalculable boost to prestige and status. But they made their fans suffer here, after two play-off defeats under previous boss Ronny Deila.

Rodgers brought right-back Mikael Lustig into the centre of defence at the expense of Corkman Eoghan O'Connell.

Midfielder Callum McGregor replaced Tom Rogic while skipper Scott Brown made a club-record 70th appearance in European competition.

There was drama in the 14th minute when the Israeli side were awarded a penalty for a Janko trip, but Gordon beat Maharan Radi's blasted spot-kick away.

Hapoel, though, continued to press. Celtic were disjointed and in some disarray.

Rogic replaced James Forrest for the start of the second half but three minutes later there was bedlam inside the stadium when Janko appeared to knock the ball out of the hands of Gordon as he dealt with a Ben Bitton cross, leaving Hoban to tap into the empty net.

Celtic were rocking. The traffic continued towards Gordon.

Moussa Dembele came on for the dejected Leigh Griffiths and moments later shaved the far post with a curling shot.

But at the other end Hoban's spectacular scissors-kick went just wide.

The home side probed down the right and left but ran out of ideas and then time - four minutes of which were added - leaving Celtic shocked but in the Champions League.

Irish Independent

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