CELTIC 2 FEYENOORD 1
THE agonising decade-long wait for a Champions League group stage win ended in dramatic fashion at Parkhead tonight.
Brendan Rodgers’ side had seen a first-half penalty-kick opener from Luis Palma wiped out by Feyenoord substitute Yankuba Minteh in the 82nd minute and the heads could have gone down.
Instead, with Callum McGregor in inspirational form and Matt O’Riley for company, Celtic came storming back in their efforts for that elusive triumph.
The skipper thought he had provided the breakthrough with a ferocious 30-yard drive that thudded off the crossbar and flew over in the 87th minute.
PUT YOUR HANDS TOGETHER…Brendan Rodgers acknowledges a dramatic win.
The hosts may have believed their best chance of three points had come and gone at that vital moment. It seemed Dame Fortune was once again scowling in their direction.
But with the clock ticking down, Rodgers’ diehards fashioned a winner of exquisite construction and sublime finishing.
In the 90th minute, O’Riley took a short corner-kick on the left to substitute James Forrest who knocked it wide to Alistair Johnston.
As the Dutch defenders switched their focus to the Canadian World Cup defender about 10 yards outside the box, O’Riley edged stealthily to the back post.
Johnston spotted the movement and hit a superb diagonal ball to the Englishman who bamboozled an opponent with a deft touch, looked up and nonchalantly chipped the ball across the face of the goal where Gustaf Lagerbielke was lurking unmarked.
The Swedish centre-back, who had replaced Stephen Welsh only 15 minutes earlier, was left in splendid isolation as he headed into the unguarded net.
Cue glorious bedlam in the ground with 56,391 fans witnessing the long-overdue victory.
A neatly-executed 33rd-minute penalty-kick from Palma separated the sides at the interval, but the Hoops had Joe Hart and a left-hand post for keeping out the Dutch outfit.
EURO STAR…Joe Hart was in superb form against Feyenoord.
The 36-year-old keeper made three outstanding saves in the opening 45 minutes and was helped out by his woodwork when Lutsharel Geertuida squeezed an effort past him only to see the ball strike the inside of the upright and bounce clear.
But Hart relied on lightning reflexes just beofre the half-hour mark to defy Mexican dangerman Santiago Gimenez who was allowed to race away from comeback defender Welsh, playing his first game since August, before smacking in a vicious low drive.
The former England international netminder was down swiftly to block the effort as the hosts breathed a sigh of relief after dominating most of the proceedings up to that point.
And the worth of the save was emphasised moments later when French referee Benoit Bastien awarded a stick-on penalty-kick after Liam Scales had been wrestled to the ground by Ramiz Zerrouki as a left-wing corner-kick swirled into the box.
The Algerian had been warned by the match official only seconds beforehand, but still went ahead and grabbed the Republic of Ireland international as he tried to take up position in the crowded area.
Down went the Celt, the ref pointed to the spot and promptly booked the Feyenoord culprit.
Palma kept his nerve as he sauntered forward before striking his effort smack down the middle of the goal as Justin Bijlow took off for his right.
SPOT ON…Luis Palma made no mistake with his penalty-kick.
Two minutes later it was Hart to the rescue again when he beat away a close-range drive from Gimenez and McGregor brilliantly blocked the follow-up effort from Quinten Timber that was heading for the net.
And right on half-time the shotstopper was on his toes to push away an inswinging free-kick from Calvin Stengs.
In the midst of all the excitement, Rodgers had to replace the limping Tomoki Iwata with Paulo Bernardo.
And Gimenez also had an effort ruled out for offside with the decision verified by VAR.
The sparring continued after the interval with the Dutch champions determined to take something from this confrontation.
But it was keeper Bijlow who kept them alive with a magnificent reflex save at his near post when Mikey Johnston picked out Palma and the Honduran whipped in a low angled drive that was arrowing for the back of the rigging until the netminder thrust out a foot to divert the attempt for a corner-kick.
In the 68th minute, Rodgers made a double substitution when he put on James Forrest and Oh Hyeon-gyu for Mikey Johnston and Kyogo Furuhashi and seven minutes later he introduced Lagerbielke and 17-year-old debutant Mitchell Frame for Welsh and Palma.
It all looked like it was going to end flat when Minteh lashed in the leveller, but there was no stopping this Celtic team in this mood.
HEADS I WIN…Gustaf Lagerbielke knocks in the points-clincher at the death.
SWEDE DREAMS…Champions League matchwinner Gustaf Lagerbielke.
How wonderfully ironic that it should be Lagerbielke who was the matchwinner. The summer recruit from Elfsborg was red-carded against the same opponents in Rotterdam in September.
Revenge must have been sweet for the young Swede as the decade-long sentence in the doldrums was eventually dyanamited on an evening of great excitement in the east end of Glasgow.
The Hoops heroes well deserved their accolade from the delighted fans at the climax of a hectic and engrossing spectacle.
TEAM: Hart; A Johnston, Welsh (sub: Lagerbielke 75), Scales, Taylor; Iwata (sub: Bernardo 19), McGregor, O’Riley; M Johnston (sub: Forrest 68), Kyogo (sub: Oh 68), Palma (sub: Frame 75).