Brendan Rodgers hails '˜complete performance' of five-star Celtic
The Scottish champions swept Astana aside 5-0 in the first leg of their play-off round tie at Celtic Park and will travel to Kazakhstan for the return fixture next Tuesday as certain as any team can be of progress.
It was Celtic’s biggest European victory for 15 years – when they defeated Suduva 8-1 in a campaign which saw them reach the Uefa Cup final in Seville. Own goals from Astana defenders Evgeni Postnikov and Igor Shitov book-ended a double from Scott Sinclair and a James Forrest strike to leave Celtic on the verge of claiming another financial windfall in excess of £30 million from participation in the group stage of Europe’s elite club tournament.
“It was a brilliant performance, very complete in many aspects of how we work,” said Rodgers. “Now we have to get the job done in the second game. We want to go there and win the game. We don’t have to but we have to complete the second leg and finish the job off.
“It was an outstanding team performance. We scored five goals and missed one or two chances. To do that at this level of competition, I was really proud of the team. It’s a great demonstration of the work the players have made and progressed since last season.
“They always had physical courage when I came in but to have the maturity to handle the ball, have a belief and shape, that was perfectly illustrated tonight
“Every game is a pressure game at this stage of the tournament. It had everything in it. Astana don’t normally press, so that surprised us, but once we found our angles we were able to play through them. The first goal is always important.”
Rodgers, who confirmed Stuart Armstrong is expected to finally sign a new contract with the club in the next 24 hours, also praised Israeli midfielder Nir Bitton for his display at the heart of Celtic’s back four.
“There were big questions asked of Nir Bitton but no-one knows better than me if he can play there or not,” said Rodgers. “He made less mistakes than many centre-halves. He was outstanding.”
Astana coach Stanimir Stoilov was left to reflect on a series of costly errors by some of his players. He said: “We made several individual mistakes. In a game of this level, that’s dramatic. Celtic played at a high class, every time they shot it was a goal. We started okay but got punished for every mistake. The second half was much more difficult. If we are going to play at Champions League level, we need to learn from this.”
While Stoilov accepted his team were second best, he was critical of referee Ovidiu Hategan’s failure to stop play in the build-up to Celtic’s third goal following a serious clash of heads between Tom Rogic and Yuri Logvinenko.
“If I was a referee, I would have stopped the game,” said Stoilov. “We need to think about the safety of players. But Celtic were winning.”