Monday 22 January 2018

Samaras ensures Celtic leave Solitude in the party mood

Cliftonville 0 Celtic 3

Celtic's Mikael Lustig (left) celebrates with Kris Commons after scoring
Celtic's Mikael Lustig (left) celebrates with Kris Commons after scoring

Graham Luney

This is what happens when you extend the hand of friendship.

Cliftonville and their supporters rolled out the welcome mat to Neil Lennon and his Hoops but the SPL champions enjoyed the party and then left with their pride intact.

Solitude has never staged a bigger fixture and the 5,442 fans came to witness an enthralling spectacle of colour and noise.

Lennon's boys did a professional job, killing off any hopes the Reds had of the greatest result in their history at Parkhead next Tuesday.

Former Northern Ireland star Lennon admitted he feared the worst in this Champions League second-round qualifying first-leg tie but his players absorbed everything Cliftonville threw at them.

First-half goals from Mikael Lustig and Georgios Samaras calmed any nerves in the travelling party and it could have been much worse for the Reds as Kris Commons twice hit the woodwork.

Anthony Stokes clipped the crossbar in the second half but James Forrest supplied the icing on the cake with a third six minutes before the end.

Celtic were without the injured Adam Matthews, Charlie Mulgrew, Joe Ledley and Virgil van Dijk as well as unavailable new signing Steven Mouyokol. Victor Wanyama has left for Southampton and Gary Hooper is also heading for the exit.

Liam Boyce led the line for the Reds with Joe Gormley tucked in behind, offering support.

Celtic's defensive injury crisis led to an early recall to action for Nigeria defender Efe Ambrose.

The Reds managed to keep the back door shut until the 25th minute but the visitors looked dangerous on the attack and fully deserved their 2-0 interval lead.

A delicious right-wing corner from Commons was headed home from close range by Lustig for the opener. The Hoops doubled their lead in style in the 31st minute. Samaras spun away from Ciaran Caldwell and unleashed a sweet left-foot shot that was past 'keeper Conor Devlin before he knew it.

In the 68th minute Celtic were denied by the woodwork again, this time Stokes' swerving shot hit the crossbar en route to the away stand.

Forrest had the chance to make it 3-0 10 minutes before the end but shot wide. However, he made no mistake in the 84th minute, burying a low shot under Devlin.

Celtic earned the bragging rights but it was a party no one who was there will forget and there's a bigger one being planned for Parkhead on Tuesday night.

Cliftonville – Devlin, McGovern, R Scannell, Johnston, Caldwell (Donnelly 73), McMullan, Garrett (Curran 77), Smyth, Catney, Gormley (O'Carroll 69), Boyce.

Celtic – Forster, Izaguirre, Ambrose, Wilson, Brown, Samaras (Watt 76), Stokes, Commons (Rogic 80), Lustig, Kayal, Forrest (McGeouch 86).

Ref – S Boiko (Ukraine).

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