Unwanted stress for Rodgers as Celtic survive Astana scare

Brendan Rodgers admits he endured another night of Champions League qualification worry after Celtic progressed into the group stage despite a 4-3 defeat in Astana.

The Bhoys’ progress was never in serious doubt following their 5-0 thrashing of the Kazakhstan champions at Parkhead last week but there were still some nervy moments in a pulsating encounter in Kazakhastan.

The home side took the lead through an own goal by 19-year-old defender Kristoffer Ajer before Scott Sinclair curled in the equaliser.

Two goals in a minute at the start of the second half from attackers Serikzhan Muzhikov and Patrick Twumasi brought the home side back to life and when the Ghanaian grabbed his second to make it 4-1 there were some anxious moments before late goals from Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths gave the visitors an 8-4 aggregate win and confirmed they would be in European football’s top club competition for the second successive season.

Rodgers recalled last season, his first as Hoops boss, when Celtic survived a nervy second leg onslaught to reach the Champions League group stage with a narrow 5-4 aggregate play-off win over Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

“Welcome to the annual Be’er Sheva moment,” he said after the game. “When the second goal went in, that was a good moment for us.

“We turned the momentum of the game then. The players were shocked with the goals we conceded but once we got the second goal the calmness came back into the team and that leads into the third goal and we defended much better then.”

Last season Celtic finished bottom of their group which included Barcelona, Borussia Monchengladbach and Manchester City, with three points and no wins. As he looked forward to tomorrow’s draw, the former Liverpool boss targeted at least third place in the group and Europa League football this time around.

He said: “Our aim was firstly to qualify, it’s big achievement with the route we have to take and the games we have to play. That was the first target. What we would like to do is progress this year and be in European football after Christmas.”

FC ASTANA:

Eric, Shitov, Postnikov, Anicic, Shomko, Maevski, Kleinheisler (Grahovacat 13), Twumasi, Muzhikov, Tomasov (Beysebekovat 45), Kabananga.

CELTIC:

Gordon, Lustig, Ajer, Bitton, Tierney, Ntcham, Brown, Forrest (Ralstonat 57), McGregor (Rogic 57), Sinclair (Armstrong 65), Griffiths.

Referee:

Pavel Kralovec


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