CELTIC 3 LILLE 2
IT has been a long time coming, but Celtic at last displayed some of the genuine resoluteness, urgency and vibrancy that marked their play in recent years in this victory over Lille at Parkhead tonight.
It was a fixture where only pride was at stake for Neil Lennon’s players after four defeats and a draw in a wretched Europa League Group H campaign.
However, some fresh legs and some renewed vigour brought about a stirring and welcoming victory over a top-class French side who sit second in their domestic league only two points adrift of Paris Saint-Germain.
Lennon made the changes – and how the new players reacted with a refreshing vim and vigour.
No-one rose more to the occasion than David Turnbull. It was just and correct that he should finish the evening as the Hoops’ matchwinner because he put in a performance that will make him difficult to shift for the visit of Kilmarnock on Sunday.
He flashed in the winner in the 75th minute after some immense work on the right by Kristoffer Ajer who displayed skills any self-respecting winger would be proud to claim as their own.
When the Norwegian got his ball into the danger zone it was Turnbull who reacted first to thunder a low angled drive past the keeper at his right-hand post.
It’s a pity the stadium was empty because the Scotland Under-21 midfielder would have come off to a standing ovation when he was substituted in the 87th minute when Tom Rogic came on in his place.
The game exploded to life with an electrifying three-goals-in-six-minutes burst and, thankfully, two were for the home side.
The Hoops had settled well considering it was the first time this set of players had ever lined up alongside each other. Conor Hazard looked unfazed on his first-team breakthrough, Ismaila Soro was neat and tidy in his holding midfield role and Patryk Klimala was busy up front.
The side were not throwing caution to the wind against an excellent French outfit who came into this match after suffering only one league defeat all season. They were also good enough to triumph 3-0 at the San Siro, the same venue where the Scots had slumped to a 4-2 loss a week ago.
Turnbull, making only his second start. looked eager to be involved and he displayed a fair degree of confidence in the 11th minute when he elected to have a go from 35 yards, but his drive was well wide of the keeper’s left-hand post.
Two minutes later, Jeremie Frimpong, celebrating his 20th birthday, was sent clattering into the trackside hoardings after a challenge on the touchline. The hardy Dutch ace recovered after treatment.
In the 20th minute, Mike Maignon made an excellent diving save to his left as the turned away a rasping drive from Klimala after Callum McGregor and Turnbull had been involved in the lead-up play.
It was no surprise when the Hoops took the lead two minutes later and Turnbull was the architect with a wonderfully-delivered left-wing corner-kick. The £2.5million summer arrival from Motherwell flighted a perfect set-play into the box and Christopher Jullien timed his run to perfection.
The towering Frenchman leapt high to get the merest of touches with his head to the ball to send an angled effort wide of the helpless keeper and in at the far post.
Within two minutes, a dreadful passback from skipper-for-the-night McGregor presented the visitors with an equaliser.
No danger threatened when he hit a loose pass which was snapped onto by Yusuf Yazici who dragged the ball to the left before zipping over a low cross to the near post and Jonathan Akone slid in to poke the ball beyond the stranded Hazard.
Celtic’s response was swift. In the 26th minute, Turnbull fed a ball through to Frimpong who was clattered in the act of shooting by the clumsy Domagoj Bradaric. Portuguese referee Fabio Varissimo had no hesitation in pointing to the penalty apot.
The right-back hirpled off after treatment and was off the park when McGregor took the responsibility of taking the kick and he atoned for his blunder by sweeping an impeccable low left-foot drive past Maignon.
Unfortunately, Frimpong wasn’t able to recover and Lennon sent on Ewan Henderson in his place on the half-hour mark.
There was a scare for the Hoops in the 62nd minute when McGregor lunged at a fierce right-wing drive from Cheikh Niasse and deflected the effort past the diving Hazard onto the outside of the post and the ball rebounded for a corner-kick.
However, two minutes later, Turnbull demonstrated things to come when he had an effort diverted wide of the upright with Maignon helpless.
In the 71st minute, it was all-square when former on-loan Celt Timothy Weah volleyed a screamer from the edge of the box that left Hazard without a hope as it buried itself low in the net.
The Lille star was swift to react to a header out from Jullien following a right-wing free-kick delivery.
Then came Turnbull’s big moment which surely announced his arrival as a Celtic player.
There was amoment of anxiety in the 80th minute, though, when an alarming gap appeared in the centreof the Hoops rearguard when Jonathan Bamba sent through a cute pass and Isaac Lihadji, played onside by Diego Laxalt, looked certain to hit the leveller.
However, he failed to make proper contact and 6ft-plus Hazard spread his elongated frame to get a foot to the effort to knock it to safety. That save could earn him the nod over Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain dor the next game while Soro won’t have done his chances any harm, either. The little Ivorian is one tough hombre, that’s for sure.
As well as Rogic, Lennon sent on Albian Ajeti and Stephen Welsh in the second-half as the Celts dug in for a well-earned victory with the match official allowing for an extra six minutes in stoppage time to prolong the agony of waiting for only the club’s third win in 13 outings..
Now it’s a case of: Bring on Kilmarnock.
And will the real Celtic, please stand up?
TEAM: Hazard; Julien, Duffy, Ajer (sub: Welsh 87); Frimpong (sub: Henderson 30), Soro, Turnbull (sub: Rogic 87), McGregor, Laxalt; Klimala (sub: Ajeti 78), Elyounoussi.