Shakhter Karagandy, who stand between Celtic and another Champions League group campaign, rested their entire team and still won their final game before tomorrow night’s play-off encounter in Kazakhstan.
Shakhter enjoyed a morale-boosting result – a 2-1 victory over the second-top team in the league, in the same stadium where they will host Celtic – and manager Victor Kumykov pulled it off with his reserve side.
It came on the same day that Celtic refused to be derailed by proving they can overcome pre-match obstacles. Manager Neil Lennon had bemoaned the international fixture schedule that led to many of his players returning to Glasgow less than 48 hours before Saturday’s 2-0 lunchtime victory at in-form Aberdeen.
His squad suffered further disruption less than 12 hours before kick-off when a fire alarm went off at their hotel.
Celtic started slowly at Pittodrie although the home side could not make the most of some decent opportunities to put the ball in the box, but they got a grip of possession before the key moment just before the break when Aberdeen goalkeeper Jamie Langfield was sent off for conceding a penalty that Kris Commons tucked away.
Celtic, who scored late on through James Forrest, embarked on the seven-hour flight to Astana from Aberdeen Airport immediately after the match to give themselves as much preparation time as possible before tomorrow’s first leg with Shakhter Karagandy.
But they will expect to be able to cope with whatever comes their way in the former Soviet state after brushing off their late-night disruption in the Granite City.
Lennon said: “It’s becoming a bit of a regular occurrence in Aberdeen. The fire alarm went off about half one. It was freezing outside as well.
“I think it was somebody playing a prank, but for some of the residents in the hotel it wasn’t very nice.
“There were a couple of elderly people and people in wheelchairs who were a little bit distraught. It is tiresome but it can also fire you up.”
Shakhter had their own adversity to overcome in the shape of an Astana side rated among the strongest in the country. But they passed that test smoothly.
Manager Kumykov admitted: “We won the game, but we have to say we had more than an element of luck to it because they missed a penalty too.
“Perhaps they underestimated us because of the team we put out. We decided to divide our squad into two groups because we have a lot of games coming up. So the players who will meet Celtic were all rested.”
The result gives Shakhter hope of retaining their league title and they are now in third place, three points behind leaders Aktobe.
Their goals were scored by Roman Murtazaev and Andrei Finonchenko, who are both likely to be on the bench tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Kumykov has banned his players from speaking ahead of the game with the Scottish champions.
He explained: “I would prefer if my players didn’t talk to the media before playing this game. It would only serve as a distraction and could be used against them.”