RONNY Delia could not have felt any more at home if he had been back in Norway last night as Celtic completed the opening phase of their Champions League qualifying campaign with complete comfort.
Scorers: Celtic - Van Dijk (13, 20) (Pukki 27, 72)
Celtic won 5-0 on aggregate
The new manager will have to wait for his debut in the Celtic Park dug-out while it is on Commonwealth Games duty, but BT Murrayfield proved a more than welcoming venue for Deila’s first official ‘home’ fixture in the job.
Backed by a vocal and sizeable gathering at Scottish rugby’s HQ, Celtic eased their way into the third qualifying round of Europe’s elite club tournament with doubles from Virgil van Dijk and Teemu Pukki against outclassed Icelandic title holders KR Reykjavik.
A sterner test may be provided in the next tie, against either St Patrick’s Athletic or Polish champions Legia Warsaw, who start their second leg in Dublin tonight at 1-1, but Deila can be satisfied with the initial steps taken by his new charges.
Van Dijk is hardly noted as a prolific goalscorer, although they do tend to come in bursts for the big Dutchman, who opened his account for Celtic last season with a rapid double against Ross County in the Premiership.
It was a similar story here as he claimed his first European goals for the club within seven first-half minutes of each other as Celtic wasted little time in putting any lingering doubts as to the outcome of this tie firmly to bed.
On a fine playing surface, Deila’s men were on the front foot from the start against opponents whose limitations had been clear to see in the first leg, despite managing to restrict Celtic to just a 1-0 advantage.
The manager’s desire for a pleasing performance to accompany progress into the next round had clearly been communicated to his players, who displayed plenty of purpose.
Pukki, handed the central striker’s role in the absence of the injured Anthony Stokes, should have put Celtic ahead in the fifth minute. Latching on to a delightful through ball from Kris Commons, who passed a fitness test to take his place in the side, the Finnish international was left one-on-one with KR goalkeeper Stefan Magnusson but directed his shot too close to the veteran, who made a simple save. The ball broke into the path of Leigh Griffiths who struck a more precise effort towards the corner of the net but Magnusson responded smartly to dive to his left and touch the ball behind for a corner.
Although destined for another 90 minutes in which they were mostly on the defensive, KR did look to counter-attack whenever possible. On occasion, they managed to make the Celtic back four appear less than convincing and Jonas Saeversson came close with a 20-yard shot over the top.
But that encouragement for the visitors was soon doused when van Dijk made it 1-0 for Celtic in the 13th minute. KR were guilty of lamentable defending at a corner kick and conceded a corner when a late run into the penalty area from Commons was crowded out. Commons took the kick from the left, finding Charlie Mulgrew unchallenged at the far post to nod the ball across the six-yard box. With KR slow to react, van Dijk pounced to stab home from close range.
KR attempted a quick response and their Uruguayan midfielder midfielder Gonzalo Balbi, brother-in-law of Luis Suarez, caused mild consternation for Fraser Forster when he cut in from the right and drilled a low shot narrowly wide of the left hand post.
Any notions of KR somehow regaining a foothold in the tie were wiped out when van Dijk doubled his tally and Celtic’s lead on the night in the 20th minute. No lessons had been learned in the visitors’ defence when Commons slung over another corner from the left. This time, both Mulgrew and Mikael Lustig were able to head the ball back across the penalty area for van Dijk to beat Magnusson with a close-range header.
There was now a firm sense that the final margin of victory could be just about as comprehensive as Celtic cared to make it. Pukki forced a smart save from Magnusson when he shrugged off a couple of challenges and burst clear to fire in a shot which the goalkeeper dived to his right to divert wide.
A player clearly in need of a goal to lift his confidence, Pukki simply couldn’t miss when he finally claimed his first European strike for Celtic in the 27th minute. Emilio Izaguirre and Callum McGregor combined down the left to stretch the KR defence, last week’s first leg scorer McGregor driving in a low cross which Pukki touched home from inside the six yard box.
There was a distinct drop in tempo from Celtic as the match wore on in warm conditions but their control of proceedings remained complete. The number of clear-cut chances they created began to dry up and Magnusson was not seriously tested again until the 63rd minute when he got down superbly to touch a fierce long-range shot from Commons behind for a corner.
The Reykjavik players had stuck manfully to their defensive duties, despite the hopelessness of their cause, but Pukki took full advantage of their increasing weariness to make it 4-0 in the 71st minute. Receiving the ball on the right of the penalty area, Pukki coolly rounded Magnusson and guided an angled shot into the roof of the net.
It was his final act before leaving the pitch to an ovation from the Celtic supporters as he was replaced by Liam Henderson for the closing stages.
Celtic: Forster, Lustig, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre (Matthews 62), Mulgrew, Johansen, Griffiths (Kayal 62), Commons, McGregor, Pukki (Henderson 72). Subs not used: Zaluska, Biton, Boerrigter, Watt, Henderson.
KR Reykjavik: Magnusson, H Hauksson, Josepsson, G Sigurdsson, GT Gunnarsson, Finnbogason, Saevarrson (Zato-Arouna 57), Balbi (Jonsson 73), B Sigurdsson, Atlason (Ormarsson 46), Martin. Subs not used: Jensson, GR Gunnarsson, Sigurjonsson, Ragnarsson.