NADIR Ciftci wasted no time in making a positive first impression in Celtic colours as he helped his new employers complete their Champions League preparations with a confidence-boosting win over Real Sociedad.
The day after completing his £1.5 million move from Dundee United, the Turkish striker entered the fray midway through the second half of the last of Celtic’s three warm-up fixtures in Paisley.
Ciftci had been on the pitch for a minute when he produced a deft touch to set up the only goal of the night for his former Tannadice team-mate Gary Mackay-Steven.
After last Saturday’s 5-3 defeat by Dukla Prague, the clean sheet was equally encouraging for Celtic manager Ronny Deila ahead of the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round tie against Stjarnan on Wednesday.
Deila deployed a starting line-up which may well be seen again against the Icelandic champions at Celtic Park. Charlie Mulgrew lined up alongside Dedryk Boyata in central defence, a combination which will be required again on Wednesday as Virgil van Dijk serves the Uefa suspension he incurred with his dismissal in the Europa League tie against Inter Milan in February.
The rest of the team had a relatively familiar look, with Leigh Griffiths retaining the lone striker role in front of an advanced midfield trio of Mackay-Steven, Stefan Johansen and Stuart Armstrong.
Celtic might have been expected to display far greater match sharpness in the early stages, given that this was Sociedad’s first warm-up fixture for a Spanish season which does not begin until 22 August.
But David Moyes’ side made the brighter start with Craig Gordon forced into action in the second minute when he reacted well to touch over a dipping 20-yard effort by Yuri Berchiche.
Sociedad maintained that momentum and came even closer to taking the lead in the 14th minute when a shot by former Real Madrid man Sergio Canales took a deflection before striking Gordon’s left-hand post.
It took Celtic until the 22nd minute to test Sociedad goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli when the Argentinian had little trouble in clutching Mikael Lustig’s header from a Johansen corner.
Sociedad’s response was immediate, central striker Imanol Agirretxe’s low shot forcing Gordon into a scrambling save to his right.
With Deila becoming increasingly vocal from the technical area, Celtic raised their tempo as half-time approached and began to press the visitors higher up the pitch.
A finely-timed tackle by Jon Ansotegi nicked the ball off Johansen’s toes just as the Norwegian midfielder was poised to shoot after a clever one-two with Griffiths. The resulting corner was floated in by Johansen for Boyata to head narrowly over from close range.
With Celtic now seeing much more of the ball in their attacking third of the pitch, Griffiths should have done better than drag a left-foot shot wide after being played in by Nir Bitton’s excellent pass.
Deila made just one change at half-time, Darnell Fisher replacing Lustig at right-back. Celtic almost snatched the lead four minutes after the restart when Griffiths pounced on some slack play by Ansotegi. It left him clear to drive a left foot shot beyond Rulli, only for the ball to strike the ’keeper’s left-hand post.
With much of the action meandering aimlessly in typical pre-season fashion, the evening was in need of a spark and it was duly provided by Ciftci, who received a rapturous welcome from the Celtic fans as he replaced Griffiths and was almost immediately involved in the 69th minute breakthrough goal. Ciftci played a clever exchange of passes with his former Dundee United team-mate Mackay-Steven who planted a firm left-foot shot low to Rulli’s right.
Ciftci was clearly eager to impress, perhaps a little too eager just three minutes later when, after being set up by Johansen, he failed to connect cleanly with his shot from just inside the penalty area.
Swiss defender Saidy Janko also made his first appearance for Celtic in the closing stages as they saw the game out fairly comfortably.