Celtic 2 - 0 Helsingborgs (agg 4-0): Georgios Samaras sparkles as Celtic seal coveted Champions League spot
JUST ten months after contemplating whether he was up to the job, Neil Lennon last night joined the select band of Celtic managers who have led the club into the group stage of the Champions League.
Scorers: Celtic - Hooper (30), Wanyama (88)
Bookings: Celtic - Matthews, Wilson; Helsingborgs - Accam, Djurdijc
Where there was self doubt for Lennon on that now barely credible day at Kilmarnock last October when his team trailed 3-0 at half-time and seemed destined to endure another domestic title failure, here there was only vindication as Celtic completed their passage into today’s riches-laden draw in Monte Carlo.
Goals from Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama saw the Scottish champions match the 2-0 victory they had plundered from the first leg of this play-off round tie against Helsingborgs last week. If a suspicion of offside against Hooper for the opener added to the good fortune Lennon’s men had enjoyed in Sweden last week, there could be no dispute about the ultimately comprehensive nature of their aggregate triumph.
It was inspired by Georgios Samaras, a man whose talents are not always appreciated as fully by the Celtic supporters as they are by his manager. It is on such self-conviction that good managers flourish and Lennon was entitled to the broad grin he wore at full-time last night. Today, he awaits the outcome of a mouth-watering draw which will see Celtic in Europe’s elite tournament for the first time in four years.
Lennon’s faith in Samaras as a man for the big occasion would certainly have been strengthened by the influence the Greek striker had in Celtic emerging from an apprehensive opening half hour to grab the goal which would convince even the most pessimistic home supporter that a comeback from the Swedish champions was not about to
Operating in his favoured wide left role, Samaras provided his team with a valuable outlet during the opening stages when Helsinborgs, as they were bound to do in the circumstances, tried to force their hosts onto the back foot.
Just as in the first leg, when he created Celtic’s first goal inside the opening two minutes, it quickly became clear that
Samaras was in the mood. His apparently languid but deceptively rapid stride allowed him to drag the Helsingborgs defence out of position, creating Celtic’s first opening for Scott Brown whose snapshot from 20 yards flew over.
Brown, along with Samaras and Kris Commons, passed morning fitness tests to take their place in Lennon’s starting line-up. But Thomas Rogne was deemed ready only for a place on the bench, meaning Kelvin Wilson partnered Charlie Mulgrew in central defence.
Wilson has been less than convincing since his arrival at Celtic and his presence would have added to the anxiety of some home fans. But the big Englishman earned merited acclaim for a brilliantly timed and executed penalty area challenge on Thomas Sorum which denied the Helsingborgs striker a clear scoring chance in the 13th minute.
When Alejandro Bedoya then dispossessed Emilio Izaguirre and burst forward to flash a shot wide, alarm bells were ringing for Lennon who made his displeasure clear in no uncertain terms as he gesticulated to his players from the edge of his technical area.
But another powerful run from Samaras eased the tension once more as he glided beyond both Adrian Gashi and Erik Wahlstedt down the left before driving in a low shot from the edge of the penalty area which Helsingborgs goalkeeper Par Hansson got down smartly to hold.
On the other flank, James Forrest saw little of the ball in the opening 20 minutes but the young winger suddenly announced himself with a couple of weaving runs which had the home fans on their feet. There were wildly optimistic claims for a penalty when Forrest went down under Joseph Baffo’s challenge in the 26th minute, rightly ignored by Spanish referee Carlos Carballo, but there was a growing sense of Celtic at last getting a grip on the match.
Hansson had to scramble to touch a curling cross-cum-shot from Samaras over for a corner as the ball threatened to dip underneath his crossbar and it was almost inevitable that the Greek played a part in Celtic’s opener from the set piece.
Commons played the corner short from the right into Forrest who opted to drill the ball low and hard into the heart of the penalty area. The ball rebounded to Brown whose miscued shot from 20 yards fell to Samaras on the edge of the six-yard box. He coolly fed it on to provide Hooper with a simple tap-in. The assistant referee’s flag stayed down, fortuitously for Celtic as Hooper certainly looked to be offside, and the celebrations began.
Any conviction Helsingborgs had of turning the tie around was severely dented but they doggedly maintained their pursuit of an away goal to provide them with renewed hope.
Celtic fended them off fairly comfortably before half-time, although Adam Matthews was forced to collect the first booking of the night when he cynically halted a dangerous Christoffer Andersson run just outside the penalty area seconds before the interval.
Celtic finished the match in the ascendancy, Forrest striking a post with a fizzing 20 yard shot before Hansson produced a fine double save to deny Brown and Watt.
But the evening finished on a suitable high note for the home fans when Wanyama rose to head powerfully home from close range in the 88th minute after Commons and Hooper
had worked a smart short corner on the left.
Celtic: Forster, Matthews (Lustig 77), Wilson, Mulgrew, Izaguirre; Forrest, Brown, Wanyama, Samaras (Watt 70); Commons; Hooper (McCourt 90). Subs not used: Zaluska, Rogne, Murphy, F Twardzik.
Helsingborgs: Hansson, Wahlstedt (Lindstrom 75), Atta (Nordmark 81), Baffo, Uronen; Bedoya, Gashi, Mahlangu, C Andersson; Djurdjic, Sorum (Accam 62). Subs not used: D Andersson, Alvaro, Bouaouzan, Krafth.
CELTIC (4-3-3): Forster; Matthews (Lustig 76), K. Wilson, Mulgrew, Izaguirre; Forrest, Brown, Wanyama, Samaras (Watt 69); Commons, Hooper (McCourt 90)
Subs not used: Zaulska, Rogne, Murphy, F. Twardzik
HELSINGBORGS (4-4-2): Hansson; Wahlstedt (Lindstrom 75), Baffo, Atta (Nordmark 80), Uronen; Bedoya, Gashi, Mahlangu, C. Andersson; Sorum (Accam 62), Djurdjic
Subs not used: D. Andersson, Bouaouzan, Alveroc
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Thursday 20 June 2013
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