Brendan Rodgers praised the resilience of his Celtic players after they came from behind to grab a crucial 1-1 draw against Astana in Kazakhstan.
Defender Yuri Logvinenko headed the home side ahead from a corner in the 19th minute of the Champions League third qualifying round at the noisy Astana Arena and the Hoops had to withstand some heavy pressure.
The goal was poor for the visitors from a defensive point of view and things looked ominous after Celtic’s embarassing 1-0 loss to Lincoln RedImps in Gibraltar in the last round.
But, in the 78th minute, striker Leigh Griffiths drilled in a shot from the edge of the box to stun the Kazakhstan champions and ensure a result that pleased the former Liverpool manager no end ahead of the second leg in Glasgow next week.
Rodgers said: “It was an outstanding result for us. Collectively the mentality was the most pleasing thing.
“I think we were all written off before the game, everyone pretty clear in their opinion of the game, that we would do well to come back with anything other than a loss.
“But the players deserve an immense amount of credit, to fight and show spirit and passion in the game,” added Rodgers.
“The resilience and strength that we have built up over the course of the pre-season came into effect.
“I was disappointed with the goal, it is nothing new, but we showed a wonderful mentality to keep fighting and in the second half we restricted them to not so many clear chances and ended up scoring a fantastic goal.
“It is only half-time but [it is] a very important result for us.”
Rodgers was also delighted with 20-year-old Irish centre back Eoghan O’Connell, who was making his European debut on a “difficult, unnatural” artificial surface.
Rodgers said: “I thought he was outstanding. For a young player, he has been on the fringes for a few years, coming into that environment, under pressure, he had very few mistakes in the game.
“You would expect him to make some as a young player but he coped in a very difficult situation.”
However, O’Connell was as culpable as any of the Hoops players when Astana scored their goal from a corner and it is an issue the Irishman will address.
The Parkhead boss said: “I think there has been an issue there with set-pieces, long before I came in.
“We have lost the man too easy so you put yourself under pressure.
“Over the course of the pre-season, we defended them well in the main but it is an element that we have to be better at and it is something we will reiterate to the players.
“They had to cope with a long ball, they were quite direct at times and a high percentage of times we dealt quite well with it but we need to ensure that our concentration is 100 per cent.”
Astana coach Stanimir Stoilov believes his side will have to improve if they are to survive the tie.
The Bulgarian said: “We will try our best when we go to Glasgow and hopefully we will have a very good spirit over there.
“We will have to double our efforts to get what we want.”