Celtic came from behind to beat Rennes in the Europa League tonight with two goals from Anthony Stokes and a late finish from Gary Hooper. Rennes took the lead after 85 seconds when Kader Mangane converted a corner with a fine header.
Rennes pushed forward from kick-off and Julien Feret’s bullet corner kick evaded Victor Wanyama. This in turn deceived Daniel Majstorovic allowing Mangane to meet the ball and redirect it into the top corner of the goal.
Losing the early goal direct from a corner, for the second time in four Europa League games, seemed to sap Celtic’s confidence as Rennes pushed forward with confidence in the opening 30 minutes. During this period Rennes goalkeeper, Benoit Costil, touched the ball only once, to cut out a cross from James Forrest. Celtic were disjointed and no one seemed keen to receive or hold the ball.
Celtic needed a break and it came from James Forrest, not for the first time this season. The Celtic midfielder evaded two challenges and created space for a shot 25 yards out on the corner of the box. Costil, who had perhaps lost concentration during his long period as a spectator, stopped the shot but allowed it to rebound back into play, instead of turning it around the post. Anthony Stokes was on hand to pounce and turn the ball into the empty net.
Two minutes from half time Celtic took the lead when Georgios Samaras flicked on a Fraser Forster clearance which was missed by Mangane. Stokes collected outside the box and finished confidently with his left foot into the corner of the net.
Having dominated most of the first half Rennes would have wondered how they were behind at half time but the second half was a different game. Celtic came out with more fight than finesse but as the half progressed they played some of their best football of the season.
Neil Lennon’s injury problems were compounded when Glenn Loovens failed to return for the second half but the manager will be delighted by the debut of 17-year-old central defender Marcus Fraser, who threw himself into the game like an experienced professional.
Adam Matthews, Celtic’s other teenage defender, typified the home teams’ resurgence. He managed to maintain his cool under pressure with 28,000 fans nervously looking on.
Gary Hooper replaced the tiring James Forrest and wrapped things up for Celtic on 82 minutes. The striker collected a clearance under pressure in the centre circle and found Samaras in space on the left wing. Memories fleetingly flashed to mind of a similar break against Udinese when Samaras passed up a chance to make a decisive break but today the Greek was not to be denied. He played an inch-perfect pass into the path of the onrushing Hooper who met it 13 yards from goal, controlled and knocked it past Costil.
On 66 minutes Kris Commons replaced Paddy McCourt, who struggled to get into the game. Yann M’Vila, distributed the ball with great effect for Rennes and mopped up lots in central midfield but he failed to take account for ‘Tenacious C’, Commons, and collected his second yellow in the final minutes as the Celtic midfielder nipped the ball away from him.