CELTIC 2 AIK STOCKHOLM 0
CELTIC cruised to a two-goal advantage to take to Sweden in a week’s time for the second leg of this Europa League play-off confrontation.
Second-half goals from James Forrest and Odsonne Edouard made certain the Hoops did the job at Parkhead this evening.
But, really, this tie should be out of sight after Neil Lennon’s men dominated a one-sided affair, but just could not convert possession into a wider winning margin.
The manager had asked his players for a fast start to prevent the Swedes from getting into their comfort zone. However, within 10 minutes the Hoops boss was on the touchline roaring his side to up the tempo with too many early passes being sent across the pitch without a meaningful thrust into the danger areas.
Mikey Johnston looked lively and was showing some nice touches on the flank as he came forward with an eagerness to open their back-five rearguard.
In 18 minutes, the winger came close to the breakthrough goal only to be thwarted by the Swedish keeper.
ON THE RUN…Mikey Johnston bursts into the AIK box.
SLIDING IN…the Celt makes a vain effort to reach the ball as keeper Oscar Linner prepares to kick clear.
TOO LATE…Johnston slides past as the ball is booted upfield.
THEATRICS…Linner decides to indulge in some play-acting as he prepares to fall to the ground.
APPALLING…Linner actually appeals to the ref as Johnston sits it out. His appeal was ignored.
Boli Bolingoli, a willing runner at AIK on the left, raced forward at pace before picking out the youngster with a well-placed cross.
Johnston didn’t hesitate as he thumped the ball goalwards and agile shotstopper Oscar Linner had to dive full-length to his left to turn the ball away for a corner-kick.
The deadball effort wasn’t cleared and it was returned where Christopher Jullien rose to direct a header on target, but again the goalie was right in line to make a comfortable save as he patted it down before completing the clearance.
Earlier Edouard had the ball in the net after a through ball from Ryan Christie, but the Frenchman had strayed offside.
He had another go with a smart turn and shot, but Linner once again was equal to the threat when he threw himself to his right to push the ball to safety.
THREE AGAINST ONE…Odsonne Edouard has a shot at goal.
The Hoops were dominating the proceedings against the black-clad Swedes, but just could not find the key to unlock in the back door in the first 30 minutes.
In the 34th minute Jozo Simunovic gave away a careless corner-kick on the right and it almost cost Celtic dearly. It came over and fell for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson who made space to have a shot, but it was blocked and cleared by Kristoffer Ajer.
Moments later, the Hoops retaliated, but Bolingoli’s cross from the left was wayward and sailed out of play to bring a promising move to a halt.
As half-time approached, Johnston jinked his way through, but Linner cleared and then went down theatrically after a challenge from the Celt. It was a shameful piece of acting from the Swede with absolutely no contact made.
Former Sunderland midfielder Seb Larsson was booked for a cynical foul on Christie and Boligoli joined him in the book for hauling back an opponent.
Ajer had a 20-yard first-timer blocked and Scott Brown blazed wildly over the bar with the follow-up as the Hoops stormed forward in an effort to get the breakthrough goal in the opening half.
It was all to no avail, though, as the referee blew for half-time with the tie still scoreless.
Lennon’s team, as expected, had most of the play, but, frustratingly, had not capitalised on their superiority against a well-drilled side
THE BREAKTHROUGH GOAL…James Forrest looks relieved after his crucial strike as Jozo Simunovic and Kristoffer Ajer add their congratulations.
Two minutes after the restart, Ajer managed to set up a chance for Callum McGregor 25 yards out, but his powerfully-struck drive was turned over the bar by the keeper.
However, Linner had no answer when the opening goal arrived moments later.
And once again it was on-fire Forrest who proved to be the big-game player when he raced into the box on an angled pass and took careful aim before smashing in a right-foot effort.
The goalie got a hand to the ball, but couldn’t prevent it from bouncing into the net.
Celtic had restarted in a whirlwind fashion and next up was Christie with a fabulous run in from the left to zip in a right-foot shot which was pushed for a corner by the overworked Linner.
Worryingly, Jullien and Simunovic were giving away needless free-kicks with clumsy challenges and the Swedes were happy to pick up the awards from the Hungarian referee.
Unfortunately, the match official missed a knee in Christie’s back that floored the midfielder who was far from pleased with the challenge from the defender.
Craig Gordon, with the returning on-loan Fraser Forster watching from the stand, had little to do in the first hour.
The bewildering Bolingoli played Simunovic into trouble with a lazy and needless pass back and the Croatian defender had to look smart to clear up the menace.
Christie looked eager to keep the pressure on the Swedes and Johnston, too, was doing his utmost to play his part and the AIK players weren’t too fussy about how they dealt with the darting youngster.
FREEWAY TO GLORY…Odsonne Edouard watches as his superb free-kick sails high into the AIK net.
HAPPY DAZE…Odsonne Edouard races away after his brilliant strike.
The roughhouse tactics backfired on the visitors when they brought Johnston crashing to the ground once again in the 73rd minute.
It was a free-kick 25 yards out and that is deadball specialist Edouard’s territory.
The French ace stepped up and, with a fair degree of nonchalance, swept the ball with his right foot high into Linner’s top left-hand corner of the net.
Jullien was becoming more influential in the centre of the rearguard as the game wore on.
In the 81st minute Edouard sent McGregor scampering through on the left and the midfielder cut in to give himself a clear sight of goal and his left-foot effort swept agoninsingly beyond the far post.
A minute later, Lennon pushed on Olivier Ntcham and Lewis Morgan for Forrest and Johnston as he freshened up the side.
Limmer then had an amazing treble save from McGregor, Edouard and Morgan as the visitors had a great escape.
Vakoun Issouf Bayo then came on for Edouard as the Hoops looked for the third goal that would surely kill the tie.
Celtic had to settle for 2-0 and it must be hoped they have done enough to reach the group stages of the competition.
TEAM: Gordon; Ajer, Jullien, Simunovic, Bolingoli; Brown, McGregor; Forrest (sub: Ntcham 82), Christie, Johnston (sub: Morgan 82); Edouard (sub: Bayo 84).