Celtic 2 Spartak Moscow 1
Kris Commons’ dramatic late penalty gave Celtic victory over Spartak Moscow at Parkhead and secured the Hoops a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Striker Gary Hooper opened the scoring in the 21st minute when he capitalised on a mistake by Spartak defender Juan Insaurralde but that lead was cancelled out in the 39th minute by Ari, after good work by the impressive Emmanuel Emenike.
But the Scottish champions were not to be denied and, after defender Marek Suchy conceded a penalty in the 80th minute for a clumsy barge on Georgios Samaras, up stepped Commons to slam the ball in off the bar.
Two minutes from time Spartak midfielder Kim Kallstrom picked a second yellow card for a foul on Commons who was taken off on a stretcher, the only sour note in a momentous night for Neil Lennon’s side who finished second in Group G behind Barcelona with 10 points and who are in the knockout stages for the first time since the 2007/08 season.
The Hoops had to fight their way through two qualifying rounds and were then unfancied when drawn alongside the Russian club, Benfica and Barcelona.
Now Lennon and his players can look forward to the Champions League resuming in February, while getting back to defending their Clydesdale Bank Premier League title.
Lennon hailed a “monumental achievement” by his side.
“It means a hell of a lot to the club,” Lennon said. “It is a monumental achievement on our behalf.
“For the whole club to be at the big table in the new year is a phenomenal effort. To get 10 points is a phenomenal effort.”
“I thought we did not play well in the first half, got a break with the goal and then we were slack for their goal. But second half we were a lot better, created good chances; we had to go for it and thankfully it came through for us.”
Asked if last night was the high point of his career, Lennon added: “Yeah, this is the premier event, the toughest of the tough. No-one gave us a prayer going into this group.”
The Scottish champions went in to the game knowing they would qualify for the knockout stages only if they got a better result against Spartak, consigned to the bottom of the table, than Benfica got in the Nou Camp.
All the big guns were back for Celtic’s most important game of the season.
Backed by around 1,000 fans, the visitors had the better of the early exchanges.
The Moscow club only had themselves to blame for falling behind when they were on top.
Insaurralde, who had been sent off against Celtic in their earlier meeting in Russia for a professional foul on Hooper, attempted to cut out a through ball from Samaras which looked to be heading through to keeper Sergei Pesyakov.
The hapless defender succeeded only in taking the sting out of the ball, allowing the former Scunthorpe striker to drill the ball low into the corner from outside the box.
As play swept from end to end, Hoops skipper Scott Brown had a first-time effort from 16 yards saved by Pesyakov but Spartak’s equaliser, when it came, was well deserved.
Emenike’s strength allowed him to bounce his way through several attempted tackles before he laid the ball wide to Ari whose chip beat Forster and the backtracking Wilson could only help the ball into his own net.
McGeady got a round of applause from both sets of supporters when he replaced Ari just after the hour but all the while the home fans had one eye on the score from the Nou Camp.
Celtic were allowing Spartak plenty of possession in their own half and the game took a breather before bracing itself for a frantic finale.
In the 72nd minute Ambrose headed a Commons corner into the side-netting with some Hoops fans thinking the ball had gone in.
In the 80th minute Celtic were handed their lifeline when Suchy barged Samaras in the box and Commons hammered the ball high past Pesyakov and in off the bar.
Still, the result from Barcelona remained crucial, although that was to finish goalless.
After Kallstrom was dismissed, Commons’ departure meant Celtic, who had used all their substitutes, played five minutes added time also with 10 men but it was to be a night of glory for the Parkhead men.
Afterwards Gary Hooper, who opened the scoring in the first half, added: “It’s a dream come true. The performance was great and we defended better in the second half.”
Asked how far Celtic can go in the competition, Hooper added: “You never know. At home we can beat anyone – we showed that against Barca and tonight. We have to take it game by game.”
CELTIC: Forster, Lustig (Matthews 71),Wilson, Ambrose, Izaguirre, Mulgrew, Brown (Ledley 84), Kayal (Nouioui 73), Commons, Samaras, Hooper.
SPARTAK MOSCOW: Pesiakov, Kirill Kombarov, Insaurralde, Suchy, Dmitri Kombarov, Rafael Carioca, Kallstrom, Jurado, Dzjuba, Ari (McGeady 61), Emenike.
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany).
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