Celtic 2 - 1 Astana: Moussa Dembele hits late penalty winner

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths celebrates after he scores a penalty and puts his side into the lead. Picture: SNS Group

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths celebrates after he scores a penalty and puts his side into the lead. Picture: SNS Group

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  • SCORERS: Celtic - Griffiths (45’+3 pen), Dembele (90’+2 pen); Astana - Ibraimi (62’)
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Moussa Dembele timed his first goal for Celtic to perfection as he stepped off the bench to win a tense and dramatic Champions League third qualifying round tie for Brendan Rodgers’ side.

Leading 1-0 through a Leigh Griffiths penalty at the end of the first half, the Scottish champions were rocked by a stunning equaliser from Astana substitute Agim Ibraimi which left the contest heading for extra-time.

But just as stoppage time began, Celtic earned a second spot-kick when Dembele was sent sprawling. The young French striker, signed from Fulham this summer, took responsibility and showed outstanding grace under pressure to convert from 12 yards.

The Kazakhstan champions, aggrieved by the two penalty awards, finished the night with nine men as Igor Shitov and Dmitri Shomko were sent off in the closing moments.

But it was joy unconfined for Rodgers and his players who are guaranteed group stage football in Europe this season. They will hope to make that in the Champions League where they now go into tomorrow’s play-off round draw.

Nerves and anxiety are occupational hazards for the Celtic players at this stage of the competition. Before Griffiths showed composure and confidence to net the opener from the spot in the dying embers of the first half, there was a sense of trepidation in the stadium.

Although Astana had to cancel out Celtic’s away goal at some stage to have any prospect of winning the tie, they were content to play a waiting game in a bid to frustrate the home players and supporters.

Celtic controlled possession from the start but found it difficult to move the ball quickly enough into advanced positions as they faced the blanket defence of the visitors.

Rodgers opted for a 4-1-4-1
formation which provided scope for wide men Patrick Roberts and James Forrest to push forward in support of central striker Griffiths and make it an adventurous 4-3-3.

But there was little in the way of ammunition for Griffiths whose selection ahead of Dembele, who dropped to the bench, underlined the favourable early impression he has made on his new manager.

There was a first sniff of goal for last season’s 40-goal hitman in the seventh minute but he was unable to find a clean connection. Griffiths looked more threatening when he sprinted on to a long ball into the box seven minutes later, only to be crowded out by defender Yuri Logvinenko.

Astana were happy to break up play by any means necessary in order to prevent Celtic finding any rhythm or momentum and they collected their first yellow card of the evening when Shitov was cautioned for persistent fouling as early as the 21st minute.

Scott Brown almost put 
Celtic ahead in spectacular fashion a minute later, the captain getting on the end of a pre-planned corner from Stuart Armstrong and firing a scissors kick a foot over the bar.

Griffiths came close with a flashing left-foot shot wide of Nenad Eric’s left-hand post after sharp build-up work from Armstrong and Callum McGregor down the left.

Astana were slipshod in possession when they had the chance to counter attack but Craig Gordon was called into action for the first time when he cut out a dangerous low cross from Patrick Twumasi.

There was a setback for Celtic
just after the half-hour when Roberts limped off with an injury which had restricted his impact on the game. The on-loan Manchester City winger was replaced by Stefan Johansen.

As Celtic tried to increase the tempo late in the first half, they forced Eric into his first significant save when he did well to clutch Armstrong’s low shot.

Logvinenko then made a brilliant block to deny Griffiths on the edge of the six-yard box before Celtic’s persistence was rewarded with Astana’s needless concession of a penalty.

Aizal Beysebekov, trying to usher Kieran Tierney towards the corner flag, clumsily chopped down the Celtic left-back right on the edge of the box. Shomko and Junior Kabananga were both booked for protesting but Griffiths, who last season vowed to stay off penalty duties after several misses, kept a cool head to send Eric the wrong way.

Celtic looked to build on that at the start of the second half and Griffiths should have done better than skew a shot wide from 10 yards after being played in by Johansen. The striker was then denied by a brilliant recovery tackle by Shitov just as he was ready to pull the trigger on a superb through ball from Brown.

Astana had always needed an away goal and they gradually gained a greater share of possession. The warning signs were there for Celtic when Azat Nurgaliyev looped a header beyond Gordon before his celebrations were halted by an offside flag.

Rodgers sent Kolo Toure on for his debut just after the hour but, before the veteran defender could settle, Astana levelled the tie with Ibraimi’s 62nd-minute goal. It was a brilliant finish by the Astana substitute but a calamity for the defence. Tierney tried to usher a through ball back to Gordon but the keeper raced out to headit away and Ibraimi guided it back over the stranded keeper and in from 35 yards.

Kabananga came close to what would surely have been a decisive second away goal when he shot just wide in the 73rd minute, before the introduction of Dembele for Forrest. The Frenchman was fouled by Shitov as he surged into the area in stoppage time, earning the Astana defender a second yellow card. Dembele then sent Eric the wrong way and Celtic Park into raptures before Shomko also earned a second caution for dissent.

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