Celtic brush aside preseason woes in UCL opener

Posted by Andy Muirhead

Celtic's James Forrest tries to weave through the Cliftonville defence.APCeltic's James Forrest tries to weave through the Cliftonville defence.

Before Wednesday's game, Celtic fans looked at the preseason results with some worry -- four defeats out of four did not give the side a perfect introduction to the Champions League qualifier at Northern Irish champions Cliftonville in Belfast.

But goals from Mikael Lustig, Georgios Samaras and James Forrest in a 3-0 victory calmed the nerves of those worried Celtic fans and virtually ensured Celtic's progression to the next round of Europe's elite club competition, barring a collapse of epic proportions in the second leg.

Not only were the performances and results during preseason a worry, so too were the players missing, including Celtic's best player of last season -- Victor Wanyama and top striker Gary Hooper.

The first 45 minutes, apart from the odd one or two hairy moments at the back, saw Celtic dominate the play and create numerous chances, with Cliftonvile offering very little in way of goal threats.

Celtic really should have been 4-0 up at half-time, but the woodwork denied a hungry-looking Kris Commons on two occasions.

In the second half, Celtic looked as if they knew the tie was already over and sat back somewhat and gifted Cliftonville a number of chances, but they never really troubled Fraser Forster in the Celtic goal. Against a better side, Celtic could have been punished for it.

Again, the woodwork denied Celtic, this time Anthony Stoke, but the scoring was rounded off by Forrest for a deserved goal. The winger had a season to forget last year with numerous injuries keeping him out of the team; hopefully he can put those woes behind him and push on with his development this season.

Baram Kayal and Scott Brown bossed the midfield, but neither really shone as Wanyama did; however that is to be expected given it was the first competitive game of the season. Brown is trying to regain full fitness after his own injury troubles and Kayal is looking to stamp his place to fill the void left by Wanyama, despite being a fringe player for much of last season.

It was good to see the likes of Tony Watt, Dylan McGeouch and Tom Rogic coming on in the second half, although they made little impact when introduced. Next week's game at Celtic Park will be a formality for Celtic and Lennon should rest some of his key players -- not too many, of course.

All eyes will be on who Celtic will get in the next round and those nerves which manifested themselves before Wednesday night’s game will reappear for this game and the next until Celtic reach the group stages of the competition.

It wasn't a great performance in terms of the Celtic players being at their best, but they did enough to score the three goals and secure the all important away win, and at full-time that is what matters most.

As for the fans, they will be traveling back to wherever home is comfortable in the knowledge that their bhoys done good and despatched a side that had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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