CELTIC stepped up their Champions League preparations ahead of Wednesday’s home leg against Qarabag with this comfortable, if tetchy, win over French side Rennes.
The home side’s superior play was reflected in the final score as early goals by Leigh Griffiths and Gary Mackay-Steven earned them the win. However, the term “friendly match” went out the window on a few occasions with a few heavy challenges flying in and players of both teams involved in heated altercations.
Celtic boss Ronny Deila avoided any controversy afterwards by feigning indifference to the tackles, one of which led to captain Scott Brown being embroiled in a heated exchange with a couple of opponents.
“There was one challenge I didn’t like on Emilio [Izaguirre], which I thought might have been dangerous,” admitted Deila, “but other than that they didn’t bother me.
“I was pleased with the performance and the attitude, which we are always trying to improve, and that we managed to win against a good team.”
The Celtic boss certainly has plenty of food for thought with regards to his starting XI for the first leg with Azerbaijani champions Qarabag this coming midweek.
With Nadir Ciftci relegated to the bench, Griffiths was entrusted to lead the line and the striker made full use of his opportunity to impress when he opened the scoring in 13 minutes. Nir Bitton floated a high pass over the Rennes defence for Griffiths to sprint onto on the right. The striker then squared up to veteran defender Sylvain Armand before cutting inside on to his favoured right foot and drilling the ball into the bottom corner.
The Rennes players looked sharp in the touch, but mentally they were lagging behind Celtic and it showed in their defending as the hosts were able to slice through them, doubling the advantage.
Stuart Armstrong picked the lock by sliding a through pass for Mackay-Steven to run onto. With all the time in the world, the winger chose to open his body up and shoot first-time, gently passing the ball beyond the helpless Benoit Costil.
Things started to heat up in the 35th minute when Pedro Mendes (not the former Rangers player) fouled Mackay-Steven.
Brown took exception to the challenge, while Mendes’s team-mates took exception to Brown. A couple of players squared up to the Celtic captain and a bit of verbal jousting took place.
“I think the one on Gary was quite bad,” said Brown. “It is a friendly but there is no need to raise elbows and it could take him out for three or four weeks, and that’s not what we need at this time.
“But it’s part and parcel of the game and I thought we conducted ourselves really well.”
At the half-time break, Deila opted to substitute all but two players who finished the first half. This included Ciftci and, while the attacker didn’t manage to get himself on the scoresheet, as his scoreless streak to begin his Celtic career extended to five games, he did look lively in the opening stages following the restart, when he twice linked up well with Stefan Scepovic, only for the Serbian to be caught offside on both occasions running in behind.
Ciftci did manage to contribute to the fiery atmosphere when he got into an altercation with Edson Mexer after the defender hit the ground with Ciftci backing into him. Just like the previous incident involving Brown, it soon calmed down after both players had gotten their verbal shots in.
Rennes stepped up the tempo in the game’s final quarter as they tried to get something for their efforts, but were twice denied by brilliant saves by young goalkeeper Leo Fasan. The 21-year-old stopper pushed over a close-range header by Ola Toivonen after the Swedish international was found with a cross from the right, then Fasan showed a strong wrist to push away a low drive by the same player after he had been released behind the back four.
Celtic starting XI: Gordon; Ambrose, van Dijk, Boyata, Mulgrew; Bitton, Brown; Forrest, Armstrong, Mackay-Steven; Griffiths.
Rennes starting XI: Costil; Moreira, Mendes, Mexer, Armand, Lenjani; Henrique, Sylla, Fernandes, Grosicki; Sio.
Referee: S McLean.