Having been warned by Brendan Rodgers he still has much to do in order to be regarded as Celtic’s No 1 striker, Leigh Griffiths stepped off the bench to secure a dramatic but deserved winning start for his side in Group B of the Europa League.
Griffiths’ late intervention ensured Celtic were not frustrated by a gritty but unremarkable Rosenborg side who failed to force Craig Gordon into a single save. It was something of a landmark victory for the Scottish champions. In their 14 previous group stage campaigns in European football, either in the Champions League or Europa League, they had never before won their matchday one fixture.
There is little these two sides can come up with to surprise each other, having now been drawn together three times in just over a year in European competition. That sense of familiarity was perhaps a telling factor in a contest which occasionally flickered but never truly sparked into life. While Rosenborg’s approach was a defensively diligent one for most of the evening, the visitors were not entirely without ambition.
There was some early aggression from Rini Coolen’s side whose captain Mike Jensen, as he has in the previous clashes with Celtic, consistently caught the eye. The Danish midfielder saw a shot blocked by Dedryck Boyata as Rosenborg attempted to open up on the front foot.
Celtic secured the lion’s share of possession soon enough but too often were unable to find the tempo necessary to make it count. There was an anxious moment for the hosts in the 15th minute when Issam Jebali outpaced Mikael Lustig down the left and burst into the area. The Tunisian winger went down as Lustig scrambled back to cover the threat but Rosenborg’s claims for a penalty were correctly turned down by Polish referee Pawel Gil who booked Jebali for simulation.
Seven minutes later, Celtic finally posted their first serious attempt at goal when Kieran Tierney forced a corner on the left. Callum McGregor swung it in to find Filip Benkovic at the far post but the on-loan Leicester City defender’s header was comfortably held by Andre Hansen.
It kick-started Celtic’s first sustained period of pressure on the Rosenborg goal and Odsonne Edouard might have done better than blaze a shot over from around 12 yards after he had been played in by Tom Rogic’s through ball.
Tierney and McGregor then linked superbly to set Olivier Ntcham free on the left side of the penalty area but the French midfielder’s low cross was cut out by the alert figure of Anders Konradsen.
Having talked up the Europa League so passionately in the build-up to the match, Tierney matched his words with the commitment of his work. The left-back was Celtic’s biggest attacking threat and he whipped an inviting ball right across the six-yard box only to find none of his team-mates had reacted quickly enough to get on the end of it.
Tierney continued to try to drive Celtic on, fizzing in a low shot from 22 yards which Hansen gathered. Three minutes before half-time, the Rosenborg keeper defied Celtic with a superb double save.
Tierney was the source of the move once more, finding Rogic just inside the area. The Australian playmaker’s first shot was blocked before his follow-up effort was parried low to his right by Hansen. The ball broke to Edouard on the corner of the six-yard box but the striker drove his shot too close to Hansen who was able to divert it on to his right-hand post and behind for a corner.
Rosenborg were forced into a change on the stroke of half-time with the influential Konradsen limping off to be replaced by Marius Lundemo but there was no doubt the visitors were the more content as they headed into the dressing room.
Celtic looked to up the pace, as they clearly needed to, after the break and Rogic wasted a glorious opportunity to make the breakthrough when he pounced on Lundemo’s error and surged clear through the middle. He had the choice of passes to Edouard or McGregor either side of him but opted to attempt a shot himself which he could only direct straight at the grateful Hansen.
Rodgers decided a double change was in order as the stalemate continued, introducing Scott Sinclair and Mikey Johnston for Rogic and Forrest just before the hour mark. The substitutes almost made a dramatic impact, young winger Johnston’s cross from the right picking out Sinclair who volleyed just wide of Hansen’s right-hand post.
Rodgers made his final switch, Edouard making way for Griffiths who duly seized his chance to make a crucial impact. With 87 minutes on the clock, Scott Brown’s long ball was nodded on by Boyata for the Scotland striker to steer a header beyond Hansen from close range.