Celtic 2 Helsingborgs 0
Celtic manager Neil Lennon savoured his greatest achievement in football after guiding the Hoops into the group stages of the Champions League with a 4-0 aggregate play-off win over Helsingborgs last night.
Goals from Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama saw the Scottish club ease past their Swedish visitors and ensure their name will be in the draw for the group phase of Europe’s premier club competition today — for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
“It’s the best thing I’ve done in football,” Lennon gushed last night. “The pressure going into this game and, in particular the last five or six weeks, has been enormous.
“I actually feel British clubs going into these games are at an unfair disadvantage because they’re starting their season, so it makes the effort of the players and the performances even more remarkable.”
The Armagh man added: “You know what it means to the fans here and the club.
“It’s been four years in the waiting and I’m just so happy and so proud of them.”
Lennon’s men took a 2-0 lead into the second leg of their play-off against the Swedish side and Lennon welcomed four key players back into his starting line-up.
Skipper Scott Brown, wide-man Georgios Samaras and midfielder Commons had missed the 4-2 win at Inverness in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League on Saturday through injury but were reinstated along with winger James Forrest, who was rested in the Highlands.
The early stages were mostly uninspiring until the 20th minute when Samaras, who had an inspirational first half, burst into the Helsingborgs box after leaving Erik Wahlstedt and Ardian Gashi in his wake, only to send a tame shot into the arms of Par Hansson.
Moments later Hansson had to stretch to ensure Samaras’ cross did not creep under the bar but penalty-box poacher Hooper struck from the resultant corner.
Commons played a short pass to Forrest whose driven cross from the end-line was cleared only to Brown outside the box.
When the Scotland midfielder’s mis-hit shot arrived at Samaras, he casually helped the ball on to the former Scunthorpe striker, who knocked in from close range.
The goal eased Celtic’s nerves and the second half was largely forgettable — Celtic keeper Fraser Foster tested a few times from long range.
The next chance fell to Forrest who crashed a left-footed drive from 20 yards off the post with Hooper flagged for offside when the rebound landed at his feet.
As the game stretched further in the closing stages, Bedoya twice threatened the Hoops goal and Hansson made saves from Brown and Watt before Wanyama headed in Commons’ cross with two minutes remaining.
CELTIC: Forster, Matthews (Lustig 76), Wilson, Mulgrew, Izaguirre, Forrest, Brown, Wanyama, Samaras (Watt 69), Commons, Hooper (McCourt 90).
HELSINGBORGS IF: Hansson, Wahlstedt (Lindstrom 75), Baffo, Atta (Nordmark 81), Uronen, Bedoya, Gashi, Mahlangu, Christoffer Andersson, Sorum (Accam 61), Djurdjic.
Referee: CV Carballo (Spain).
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