Sunday 15 December 2019

Also-Rennes are no match for table-topping Celtic

Celtic 3-1 Rennes

Celtic manager Neil Lennon speaks with Scott Brown. Photo: PA
Celtic manager Neil Lennon speaks with Scott Brown. Photo: PA

Roddy Forsyth

Celtic's fringe players were instrumental in guaranteeing that their team would top a European group for the first time when Lewis Morgan, Mikey Johnston and Ryan Christie's netted to ensure the Scottish champions will be amongst the top seeds for the round of 32.

The feat was achieved with a game to spare and means that there will be no pressure on Celtic when they travel to Romania to meet CFR Cluj in two weeks.

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Although Celtic had already secured qualification, while Rennes had taken only a single point from their four prior fixtures, the Hoops' previous record at home to French sides - four wins and four losses - suggested that this tie should be approached with prudence.

Morgan, better known to the home support as a winger, took Odsonne Edouard's place, with Christie and James Forrest on either side of Olivier Ntcham in the advanced midfield positions. Neil Lennon had praised Ntcham in his pre-match briefing and revealed that he would start and the manager was gratified to see him provide the first threat with a venomous 35-yard strike that Edouard Mendy could only block.

Ntcham's effort brightened a sluggish Celtic start and the Hoops went ahead with their next thrust. Greg Taylor released Forrest for a typical swerve into the Rennes box, where his cut-back was met by Morgan with a stabbed left-foot drive that swept through the slight gap between Mendy and his near post.

Rennes began to buckle and were almost two goals behind within a few minutes when Ntcham uncorked another shot from distance that was taken by Mendy at the second attempt.

Celtic's Michael Johnston scores their third goal. Photo: Reuters
Celtic's Michael Johnston scores their third goal. Photo: Reuters

The goalkeeper, though, was beaten in injury time when a Scott Brown header released Christie for a left-foot drive that found the net in the last action of the first half.

Rennes produced their best passage of play after the break and it required a fine double save from Fraser Forster to prevent them getting a foothold in the tie.

The opening was created by Flavien Tait whose shot was blocked by the Englishman and, when the rebound fell to Theoson Siebatcheu, the goalkeeper diverted his shot on to a post.

Stung by these alarms, Celtic responded with the clinching goal, set up by Ntcham when he played Johnston in behind Lea Siliki for the substitute forward to ease beyond Benjamin Bourigeaud to finish with a low angled shot beyond Mendy and secure top place in Group E, despite a last-minute header from Adrien Hunou that finally eluded Forster.

Celtic's Moritz Bauer in action with Stade Rennes' Flavien Tait. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Celtic's Moritz Bauer in action with Stade Rennes' Flavien Tait. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Telegraph.co.uk

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