Celtic 1 - 2 AZ Alkmaar: Advocaat enjoys Parkhead victory in front of paltry 2,500 spectators

DICK Advocaat savoured victory on his return to Celtic Park last night, although the former Rangers manager would be forgiven for scarcely recognising the surroundings he found himself in.

Outgoing Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar came from behind to win this oddly scheduled friendly which was witnessed by a pitiful attendance of around 2,500. The twin alternative attractions of the SFA Youth Cup final at Hampden and live television coverage of the Barcelona-Inter Champions League semi-final were only partly responsible for the blocks of empty seats.

This game, put back a week because of the volcanic ash flight disruption, was arranged as an obligation to Celtic's season ticket holders who had no home Scottish Cup tie this season. In a wretched campaign for the club, however, it was a diary date the vast majority of them decided to ignore.

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It was a bizarre experience for Alkmaar coach Advocaat. Accustomed to standing on the sidelines in front of a hostile audience at Celtic Park when he was at the Ibrox helm, last night he was able to venture as he pleased behind the technical area and pick out one of the many empty seats from which to view proceedings. He was joined by his assistant, former Rangers striker Shota Arveladze, with both men provoking nothing more threatening than curious glances from the Celtic fans scattered sparsely around them.

Appropriately enough for a fixture which could easily have been accommodated at Celtic's Lennoxtown headquarters, much of it was played at training ground pace. While every match in charge of Celtic is important for Neil Lennon as he attempts to secure the job, his priorities saw him field a starting line-up which was completely changed from the one he deployed against Dundee United at Tannadice on Sunday.

The most notable features of Lennon's experimental side were the deployment of Northern Ireland winger Niall McGinn at right back and a central midfield pairing of Zheng Zhi and Ki Sung Yeung, both seldom seen since the departure of Tony Mowbray.

Paul McGowan was also offered an opportunity to impress and he had Celtic's first scoring chance of the night, only for the ball to be whipped off his toes at the crucial moment by Alkmaar's Swedish international defender Pontus Wernbloom. While the game lacked intensity, it certainly wasn't devoid of technical merit or goalmouth incident.

Morten Rasmussen provided visiting goalkeeper Joey Didulica with his first test, Celtic's Danish striker powering in a well directed header which the Alkmaar No1 saved brilliantly as he threw himself to his left. Didulica distinguished himself again when he kept out Zheng's long-range shot, but Celtic appeared fortunate not to go behind when Lens had a goal dubiously disallowed for handball.

It was the home side who made the breakthrough six minutes before half-time through a fine goal from Georgios Samaras. The Greek striker, back in the starting line-up for the first time since being dropped by Lennon in the aftermath of the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County, rifled an unstoppable shot high past Didulica from 14 yards after the goalkeeper had made another fine save to beat out Josh Thompson's header.

The advantage lasted just three minutes. The Celtic defence were picked apart by Wernbloom's pass to Pelle, who drove a precise low shot beyond Lukasz Zaluska. The second half brought the inevitable procession of substitutions but the match maintained a reasonably entertaining ebb and flow nonetheless.

McGinn was desperately unfortunate not to restore Celtic's lead when he slalomed his way through the Alkmaar defence and saw his rasping shot rebound off the inside of Didulica's right hand post. The win which clearly delighted Advocaat was secured from the penalty spot 14 minutes from time. Celtic angrily contested the decision, which saw Edson Braafheid penalised for a handball spotted by linesman Charlie Smith, but Almkaar substitute Jonathan De Jesus made no mistake from the spot, lashing the ball beyond the replacement goalkeeper Dominic Cervi.

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Celtic (4-3-1-2): Zaluska (Cervi 46), McGinn (George 80), Thompson (Tolmie 69), O'Dea (Wilson 46), Braafheid; Caddis, Zheng, Ki; McGowan; Rasmussen (McCourt 46), Samaras. Subs not used: Ordish, Young.

AZ Alkmaar (4-4-2): Didulica, Swerts, Ortiz (Sightorsson 68), Moreno (Jaliens 46), Wernbloom (Holland 46); Moisander, Poulsen (Klavan 46), Dembele (Elm 46), Holman (Gudmundsson 70); Lens (Van der Velden 46), Pelle (De Jesus 46). Sub not used: Heyblok.

Referee: W Collum.