Odsonne Edouard eases Celtic to a first 10-in-a-row as Scottish champions secure Europa League group stage football
Neil Lennon’s men exhibit impressive professionalism to negotiate awkward tie
There have been many more exhilarating nights for Celtic as they have secured European group-stage football in each of the past nine campaigns. However, the racking up of the first ten-in-a-row that they seek this season was a triumph of professionalism.
A wholly dominant second-half performance may have only produced a predatory finish by Odsonne Edouard. Yet, in the final analysis, Neil Lennon’s men saw off FK Sarajevo to book a place in the Europa League group stages with more than a bit to spare.
In the closing stages, there was never any feeling that the 70th-minute goal by the Frenchman wouldn’t be enough. Celtic were solid in a fashion rarely true when they are on the road in continental competition. They had a job to do in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And, without fashioning chances with the regularity that should have resulted from their command of the ball, their passage was really pretty straightforward.
That, in itself, was a step forward following the dicey evening in Riga a week ago, and the defensive shortcomings against Ferencvaros that ended their interest in the Champions League five weeks ago. That Celtic’s focus never wavered will content Lennon, pictured inset, as will the fact that they have now strung together consecutive wins on the road in Europe without the concession of a goal for the first time in an age. Albeit, that the complexion of such assignments is altered by the absence of any fans in stadiums.
Surprise selections from him have narked a section of the Celtic support this season. They couldn’t grumble about the line-up last night, though. Unsurprisingly, Lennon retained the line-up that had put Hibernian to the sword at the weekend, and exhibited an effervescence that for their followers has been in too short supply across the early stages of this campaign.
Such continuity was almost immediately undermined when quick feet from Nir Bitton led to him taking a boot in the ankle from Tino Susic. The grimacing from the right-sided central defender was all too real and after receiving treatment for a full two minutes he was required to give way to fellow Israeli international Hatem Elhamed. Bitton left the arena on a stretcher, which must place his participation in the Euro 2020 play-off semi-final against Scotland in some doubt.
An early moment of hesitation from Elhamed played a part in Benjamin Tartar driving into the box and whipping in a shot from an angle that Vasilis Barkas felt the need to push round his post. The immaculate handling from the Greek keeper otherwise was a feature of a pedestrian first half.
This one moment of slight anxiety for the Scottish champions came during an opening period in which the hosts were content to lie deep and allow Celtic to make the play, principally because their hosts seemed to be able to do so little constructive with it.
The stodginess that has afflicted Lennon’s men all-too-often in such circumstances over recent times once more bedevilled their endeavours in Zenica. They prodded and teased as they sought to move Sarajevo around, but could not ally this to the required creativity and penetration. It isn’t that there was a lack of industry; it’s just the invention that was absent.
It took until the 40th minute before Celtic succeeded in translating their territorial advantage into a first shot requiring keeper Vladan Kovacevic to act. Yet, although Mohamed Elyounoussi was accurate and adept in first-timing an Edouard flick into his path towards goal, the effort was easily gobbled up by Kovacevic.
The need to up the ante, as well as the pace, was clearly understood by Celtic in how they snapped into action from the first whistle of the second period. And as they grew in authority, so this had the effect of causing Sarajevo’s resistance to weaken.
With Jeremie Frimpong
raiding down the right, and forcing play from such as Ryan Christie and Elyounoussi, Sarajevo were worn down. Kristoffer Ajer should have found the net with a header from a Christie corner, but it began to become obvious the home side were living on borrowed time.
Hemmed in by Scott Brown and Callum McGregor consistently picking up second balls and reigniting attacks, the crucial foray that sealed a
fully warranted win came courtesy of sharp interplay in the 70th minute wherein Elyounoussi backheeled to allow Christie a shot from the edge of the box. On target but with no real venom, diving to his left Kovacevic could only push it in front of him, presenting Edouard with a gift from six yards out.
In total control thereafter, Celtic may not have excelled on the night, but they were more than good enough.
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