RONNY Deila has admitted that Celtic will need to raise their game in the next phase of their bid to reach the group stage of the Champions League.
Celtic had to come from behind against Icelandic part-timers Stjarnan in Reykjavik last night to grab a 4-1 win and a 6-1 aggregate success in their second qualifying round tie. They will now face Azerbaijani champions Qarabag.
Carrying a 2-0 lead from the first leg at Celtic Park, Deila’s men were stunned when Stjarnan opened the scoring last night in the seventh minute through Olafur Finsen.
But the prospect of a shock turnaround in the tie was averted as Nir Bitton levelled on the night before half-time. Charlie Mulgrew put Celtic 2-1 up early in the second half before late goals from substitute Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Johansen wrapped up an ultimately comprehensive aggregate victory.
Celtic will be at home in the first leg of the third qualifying round tie against Qarabag, with the match expected to take place next Wednesday. Deila’s men will then face the near 7,000-mile round trip to Baku the following week.
“We need to improve,” said Deila. “Qarabag are a good team. I watched the first leg of their game against Rudar. It is a big step up from this.”
Although he had insisted beforehand that the artificial pitch at Stjarnan’s Samsungvollur ground would not be a problem, Deila felt it did impact on Celtic’s display.
“It is very difficult to assess the performance because when you play on a dry artificial pitch it is very sticky and everything is slower than normal,” added Deila.
“We were a little bit sloppy at the start and a little bit stressed. But we did better in the second half when there was really only one team on the pitch. It was comfortable in the end.
“You have to deal with the circumstances of every surface you play on and we did that. It was a good result in the end and we are now ready for the next round.
“We didn’t want to concede an early goal but it happens and you have to bounce back. We did that many times last season and we did it again tonight.”
Stjarnan coach Runar Pall Sigmundsson took pride in his team’s display throughout much of the tie and felt a mistake from Belgian referee Jonathan Lardot had been pivotal in tipping the balance of last night’s match back in Celtic’s favour when Bitton scored from a corner.
“Celtic almost didn’t create any chances in the first half, apart from set pieces,” said Sigmundsson. “The corner from which they equalised should have been a goal kick to us as the ball came off a Celtic player. That was not good from the referee.
“My team played very well, especially in the first half. When we conceded the second goal at the start of the second half, it was a big blow. But our performance in the tie was very good and I’m very proud of my players.”