Brendan Rodgers heaped praise on the resilience of his Celtic players after they recovered from a potentially damaging situation to place themselves back in control of their Champions League destiny.
On a breathlessly entertaining night at Celtic Park, the Scottish champions appeared to have surrendered the initiative in their play-off round tie when their 3-0 half-time lead was cut to 3-2 by Hapoel Beer-Sheva.
But late goals by substitute Moussa Dembele and captain Scott Brown restored their three-goal advantage to take into the second legin Israel next Tuesday night.
“It is a brilliant result for us,” said Rodgers. “I would obviously have preferred to win 3-0 but 5-2 shows the level the team played in a European game with everything riding on it.
“We were brilliant in the first half. We pressed, were 3-0 up and could have had more. I was pleased with our start to the second half, then we had a spell where we defended poorly for ten minutes and conceded two goals. Then there is a question asked of you. That’s what we have been working on. At this level, you are going to come under pressure at some stage of any game.
“To go on and win the game 5-2 shows the mental strength of the players. They are nowhere near the finished article but they look like an exciting team with quality and character.
“We will take a 0-0 mentality with us and try to make sure we get the job done next week.”
Hapoel Beer-Sheva coach Barak Bakhar was left to rue what he regarded as the timidity of his team’s first-half performance.
“It was a crazy night,” said Bakhar. “We started very badly, came back to 3-2 down and were very close to equalising. We let it go when Celtic scored another two but we will try to do the unbelievable in the second leg next week. When you don’t start the game aggressively at a stadium like this and in that atmosphere, you pay a price. We were soft, while Celtic were very aggressive in the first half and made it count.”