CELTIC at long last managed to hold onto a lead against Real Betis to edge a rollercoaster, rollicking encounter at Parkhead this evening.

It may have been meaningless as far as qualification to the knock-out stages of the Europa League was concerned, but try telling that to Ange Postecoglou and his brave band of battlers.

The game went into an eleventh minute of stoppage time before the referee finally called a halt on a frantic, hectic confrontation under the lights in the east end of Glasgow.

The Hoops had the advantage three times and saw the La Liga cracks fight back twice to level. However, they couldn’t manage it a third time on this occasion. Celtic had led 2-0 in Seville in September before losing 4-3. But they were in no mood to be second best tonight.

CALM DURING THE STORM…Ange Postecoglou keeps cool as he watches Celtic battle against Real Betis.

Stephen Welsh, Ewan Henderson and David Turnbull, from the penalty spot, were the marksmen as Postecoglou saw his men complete Group G on nine points with three wins and three losses. They now have the Conference League in the new year to look forward to after starting the season in the Champions League qualifiers.

It was a hard-fought win with a collection of players who looked shattered at the end, a few of them taking part in their first genuinely competitive game of the campaign.

But the three points may have been achieved at a heavy price. Kyogo Furuhashi, who had replaced the injured Albian Ajeti in the first-half, had to come off in the 71st minute with Henderson taking the Japanese striker’s place.

He could now be doubtful for the match against Motherwell on Sunday along with Ajeti while Giorgos Giakoumakis is already ruled out.

Postecoglou may have to bring Liel Abada in from the flanks to spearhead the attack in a crucial match against the Fir Parkers.

The Greek-Australian looked concerned at full-time, but will have to wait for a fitness report tomorrow before even thinking about a line-up against Well.

NUMBER ONE…Stephen Welsh prepares to make contact with the corner-kick as the ball sails over Liam Scales’ head.

It took only three minutes and a flurry of activity from new-look Celts to open the scoring against the Spanish aces.

The Hoops forced a second corner-kick on the left and Abada switched wings to show his prowess with the set-play in the absence of Turnbull and Filipe Jota.

The Israeli swung in an inviting ball to the near post and Stephen Welsh timed his movement to perfection as he arrived on the corner of the six-yard line to glance a wicked header wide of the stranded Rui Silva who could only watch his effort glide past him into the far corner.

It was clearly straight from the Lennoxtown training HQ and the fans rose into unison to greet the youngster’s fine goal.

Postecoglou watched keenly from the touchline as the likes of Osaze Urhoghide, Liam Shaw, Liam Scales, Adam Montgomery and Ismaila Soro were given the opportunity to impress.

Manuel Pelligrini’s side recovered from the early blow and might have levelled in the 17th minute after the home side gifted them possession in the middle of the park. The ball was moved forward swiftly to Diego Lainez, but the presence of Dutch Under-21 defender Urhoghide made the Mexican rush his shot and he flashed the ball wide.

HAPPY DAZE…Stephen Welsh is congratulated by his team-mates after opening the scoring.

Postecoglou was forced to make a change in the 27th minute when Ajeti, in only his sixth start of the campaign, had to come off after stretching to block a clearance from the keeper. The ball rebounded from the Swiss forward and bounced just wide of the target with Silva breathing a massive sigh of relief.

However, Ajeti lay in obvious pain and any thoughts the manager had of giving Kyogo the night off were dashed when the Japanese frontman came on for the stricken former West Ham attacker.

Four minutes beforehand, there had been a flashpoint incident between Soro and Lainez when the Real Betis raider fell to the ground clutching his face. Thankully, pictures showed the Mexican was getting involved in theatrics and the referee was content to book the pair.

The visiting player had hardly endeared himself to the Hoops followers with his passion for caressing the Parkhead turf any time anyone came anywhere near him. It was all quite embarrassing.

Veteran skipper Joaquin also went down holding his face after a challenge from Shaw who was yellow-carded for his intervention. Again, the Betis player made the most of a fairly tame situation.

EYES TO THE HEAVENS…Kyogo Furuhashi faces a problem.

Six minutes from the interval, the Hoops had a chance to double their advantage when Kyogo was in a great position to receive a pass from Soro, but, alas, the midfielder made a mess of the ball forward and the opportunity was lost.

In the second minute of first-half stoppage-time, Scott Bain’s goal escaped when a 20-yard drive from Paul Pezzella cannoned off the junction of bar and post and ricocheted to safety.

Bain was called into action early in the second-half when he got down well to save from Cristian Tello after Bitton had given the ball away in a dangerous area.

In the 65th minute, Postecoglou gave his team a much-needed injection of fresh legs when he sent on Callum McGregor, Mikey Johnston and David Turnbull for Soro, Shaw and Montgomery.

Four minutes later, the dogged Spaniards levelled with the unfortunate Bain credited with an own goal. Jaoquin fired in a vicious low drive which the keeper did well to push onto the left-hand post, but, unluckily for the shotstopper, the ball thumped off the base of the post and came back to ricochet off his prone body into the net.

It was a bizarre goal, but Betis had been pushing hard at the time for parity and it was probably deserved.

NUMBER TWO…Ewan Henderson pounces to turn in Mikey Johnston’s right-wing cross.

That was followed by Kyogo limping off with Henderson taking his place and the substitute had an immediate impact on proceedings when he netted a second for the Hoops.

Johnston did extremely well on the right to get past a defender and zip in a low cross and his fellow-substitute got in front of a Betis player to turn the ball into the net from four yards. How the youngster enjoyed his first-ever goal for the club!

Two minutes later, it was all-square again when Borja Igelseias was released through the middle of the Hoops rearguard and he tucked his neat effort wide of the advancing Bain.

HOOP HOOP HOORAY…Ewan Henderson celebrates his first strike of his Hoops career.

Celtic, though, would have the final say on this occasion. In the 74th minute, with Parkhead in a frenzy, Johnston sent Abada racing into the box. Edgar Gonzalez hauled down the Israeli winger and the match official had no hesitation in awarding a penalty-kick.

Turnbull stepped up to send Silva the wrong way as he swept his immaculate effort low to the keeper’s left.

That was tthe end of the scoring, but not the end of the drama. Bitton and the impressive Urhoghide had a clash of heads as they attempted to clear a left-wing corner-kick and both needed extensive examination before they were allowed to carry on.

NUMBER THREE…David Turnbull sweeps in the winner from the penalty spot.

In the space of a minute, Bitton knocked an effort off the line after a header had rebounded from the woodwork and Johnston, who had had a goal ruled out for offside earlier, blew the perfect chance to set up a fourth goal in the fading moments.

Composure deserted him at the crucial moment and Betis survived.

The walking wounded were good value for their triumph, but Celtic must be wondering at the true cost of these three points.

TEAM: Bain; Urhoghide, Welsh, Scales, Montgomery (sub: Johnston 65); Shaw (sub: Turnbull 65), Bitton, McCarthy, Soro (sub: McGregor 65); Abada, Ajeti (sub: Kyogo 27; sub: Henderson 71).


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