Celtic 2 - 0 Cluj: Impressive performance sees Celtic go top of Group E

Odsonne Edouard celebrates opening the scoring.
Odsonne Edouard celebrates opening the scoring.
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No Europa League victory can financially compensate Celtic for their failure to reach the Champions League group stage but this was an occasion when restoring pride was much more valuable to Neil Lennon and his players.

They avenged their elimination by Cluj from Europe’s premier tournament earlier in the season with an impressive and fully deserved win over the Romanian champions this time around.

Odsonne Edouard’s ninth goal of the season set them on their way before Mohamed Elyounoussi’s first goal for the club sealed all three points. It takes Celtic to the top of Group E after two rounds of fixtures and sets them up nicely for the visit of top seeds Lazio to Glasgow in three weeks’ time.

Edouard’s 20th minute breakthrough was no more than Celtic deserved for a forceful and vibrant start to the contest, although the striker’s French compatriot Christopher Jullien must have been left a little bemused that his was not the first name on the scoresheet.

The big defender brought a towering threat to a series of set pieces forced by the hosts in the early stages, his first headed attempt from close range brilliantly saved by Giedrius Arlauskis after a clever short corner routine which saw Callum McGregor create the chance.

Boli Bolingoli, not trusted to play at left-back when the teams met earlier in the season during what was a stuttering start to his Celtic career, has settled to his task well since then. The Belgian provided the next opportunity for Jullien who this time looped his header over from around eight yards.

The Cluj defence simply couldn’t get to grips with Jullien who next latched onto Ryan Christie’s cross from the left and saw another header blocked on the line.

Celtic were maintaining a tempo and intensity which suggested the opener was imminent and it duly arrived through a typically composed piece of finishing from Edouard.

McGregor’s threaded pass was gathered on the left by Bolingoli and his perfectly weighted cross was headed precisely by Edouard beyond the helpless Arlauskis from six yards.

Cluj had barely been able to venture out of their own half at this stage but five minutes later thought they had equalised. McGregor, having given the ball away cheaply, was booked for a foul on Mihai Bordeianu on the edge of the Celtic penalty area.

Ciprian Deac’s free-kick was unconvincingly parried by Fraser Forster, allowing the ball to find its way to Kevin Boli who bundled it home. The visitors’ celebrations were quickly muted by a tight but correct offside decision.

Cluj coach Dan Petrescu was well enough to take his place in the technical area, the former Chelsea man having called off from pre-match media duties on Wednesday evening because of illness.

He would have been more heartened by his team’s work as the first half progressed and they managed to disrupt some of Celtic’s momentum.

Scott Brown tried to get his team back on the front foot with a surge forward from his holding midfield role and his shot from 22 yards rose just over.

But Cluj were now carrying a greater threat on the counter attack, although Mario Rondon was rightly booked for his risible attempt to win a penalty kick when he went down under no sort of challenge at all from Jullien three minutes before the interval.

Celtic appeared re-energised after the break and the ever lively Forrest came close to doubling their lead in the 49th minute when he dragged a shot narrowly wide after a weaving run into the Cluj penalty area.

Forrest is now very much a veteran of these contests as he closes in on a century of European appearances for Celtic and he was instrumental in the move which saw them make it 2-0 in the 59th minute.

Receiving the ball from Elyounoussi, he darted forward down the right and evaded a couple of challenges before laying the ball back into the path of the Norwegian midfielder. Elyounoussi enjoyed a significant slice of good fortune as his shot deflected off the back of Andrei Burca to completely wrong-foot Arlauskis but that did nothing to dilute the raucous celebrations of the Southampton loanee and the home support.

Forster made a fine reaction save to deny Deac as Cluj tried to locate a route back into the contest but Celtic were generally comfortable as they closed the game out. Christie came agonisingly close to adding a third for the hosts when he couldn’t get on the end of an inviting Elyounoussi cross but this was a night when Celtic’s sense of satisfaction was not defined by the margin of victory.