Celtic rearguard holds firm

Celtic booked their place in the Champions League play-offs tonight as a goalless draw against Elfsborg in Boras gave Neil Lennon's men a slender aggregate win.

Celtic rearguard holds firm

Celtic booked their place in the Champions League play-offs tonight as a goalless draw against Elfsborg in Boras gave Neil Lennon's men a slender aggregate win.

The Hoops travelled to Sweden for the second leg of their third qualifying round with a Kris Commons goal to defend, and while it was not a great display from manager Lennon's team they did enough to get through the tie.

On the Swedish club's artificial surface, both teams had chances in an opening 45 minutes with Elfsborg's on-loan striker, Mo Bangura, missing a sitter against his parent club.

By comparison the second half was dour, and while the final stages were tense the Scottish champions remained solid to the end.

The draw for the play-off takes place on Friday, with the Parkhead club a step closer to the lucrative group stages of the competition from which they emerged last season to reach the last 16 of the competition.

Much of the speculation before the game centred on Hoops defender Kelvin Wilson with it being reported he would play his last game for Celtic before returning to Nottingham Forest, and Lennon confirmed after the final whistle that he looks set to depart.

The Englishman shrugged off shin splint problems to take his place in the Celtic rearguard as forward Georgios Samaras also came back into the side after recovering from a toe injury, leaving no place for Anthony Stokes.

Bangura had recovered from a leg knock and in the sixth minute, from a Stefan Ishizaki cross, he went close with a spectacular overhead kick from just inside the box, the ball sliding just past Fraser Forster's left-hand post.

The erratic striker from Sierre Leone had a great chance in the 28th minute when Ishizaki swung in another fine cross from wide on the right.

Bangura slipped away from Celtic defender Efe Ambrose easily enough but his header from 10 yards lacked conviction as it looped over the bar.

Between those chances, however, the Scottish champions could have twice taken the lead and probably killed off the home side.

In the 12th minute Samaras spurned a great chance soon when Swedish right-back Mikael Lustig reached the byline before standing up a delightful cross for the unmarked Greek striker but he headed high over the bar from 10 yards.

In the 20th minute Celtic had another opportunity when Elfsborg defender Jon Jonsson clumsily handled the ball 25 yards from goal, preventing Samaras getting through.

Commons' driven free-kick broke off the defensive wall to Joe Ledley who shot straight at goalkeeper Kevin Stuhr-Ellegaard, albeit the Wales midfielder appeared to have his jersey tugged before he got his shot away.

In the final seconds of the first half, Ledley tried his luck from 30 yards and watched a good effort whistle past the upright.

Five minutes after the restart Elfsborg defender Johan Larsson tried his luck from a similar distance after taking an Ishizaki corner but his effort went well wide of the target.

It did not appear that the Swedes, despite increasing the pressure slightly, had two goals in them to win the tie in 90 minutes.

There was a moment of a panic inside the Hoops box in the 55th minute from Larsson's long throw, with the ball coming off the post in the melee, but the assistant referee had his flag up to indicate an infringement.

There appeared to be a decent Elfsborg penalty claim five minutes later when Wilson tackled fellow Englishman James Keene inside the box but Russian referee Vladislav Bezborodov was not impressed.

In the 69th minute Stokes replaced the struggling Samaras before Bangura set up Henning Hauger to blaze over the bar.

Hoops midfielder Charlie Mulgrew picked up an injury moment later and was replaced by Adam Matthews as Hauger made way for Simon Hedlund.

As the match entered its final stages the Swedes became increasingly desperate but the Hoops defence restricted them to very few chances and saw the match out with a degree of comfort and indeed with more poise they might have made more of several counter-attacks.

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox