LINFIELD 0 CELTIC 2
CELTIC settled for a two-goal advantage to take to Parkhead on Wednesday for the second leg of their Champions League qualifier against Linfield.
At one stage, however, it looked as though it was going to be a rampant scoreline at Windsor Park tonight, as our players and supporters had to endure bigotry and hatred that is centuries old in a land that time forgot.
However, the pace dropped after the interval with the Hoops two goals in front and there were also some impressive saves by 40-year-old keeper Roy Carroll to keep the scoreline down.
Spanish referee Alejandro Hernandez, infamous for his blundering decisions in Spain, got in on the act in the second period with some inexplicable decisions that saw him book Jozo Simunovic, Tom Rogic, Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong and, maybe, Leigh Griffiths.
The error-strewn judgement-making from the mystifying match official were simply baffling and Griffiths might have received a caution for holding up play as he went to take a left-wing corner-kick and was pelted with all sorts of objects including a bottle.
The ropy ref produced a yellow card, but no-one was sure if he actually waved it at the striker.
No-one will complain if this guy never takes charge of another Celtic game in Europe.
In the first-half, the Hoops had their opponents cornered as Griffiths terrorised them with a variety of deadball efforts from the flanks.
The striker, chosen ahead of Moussa Dembele, set up the first goal in the 17th minute with a left-wing set-play that had the Linfield defence in a fair bit of disarray.
He whipped in with pace and Simunovic got a head to it as the ball flew wide to James Forrest on the right.
With delicate precision, he dinked an inviting cross back into the box and Scott Sinclair was there to score with a rare header.
His close-range effort took a slight nick off Robert Garrett, but it looked to be on its way in any case as it lazily dropped into Carroll’s left-hand corner.
Six minutes later, Griffiths completely outfoxed the Irish rearguard with another left-wing corner-kick.
This time he picked out Rogic with a low, accurate pass and the Australian midfielder executed an obvious training-ground manoeuvre with stunning timing and control.
He sidefooted first time with his left and his effort flew past the motionless Carroll at his right-hand side.
That sparked the few hundred Hoops fans in the ground to burst into a stirring rendition of “Are you Rangers in disguise?”
The Parkhead men controlled the first-half, as was expected, and their possession play was a joy to behold.
Sinclair and Kieran Tierney were running amok on the left wing and last season’s 25-goal man looked in the mood to destroy the Northern Ireland champions.
In the 28th minute, he cut in from the wing to thump a vicious drive at the target, but it hit the keeper on the chest and spun over the bar.
Eleven minutes later, he sizzled in one from just outside the box that drew a good diving save from Carroll.
Griffiths was to get a taste of things to come after the break when he had the ball in the net within two minutes of the restart, but his effort was chalked offside. It was a marginal decision.
Two minutes later, Armstrong had a 25-yard curler well held by the diving Carroll to his left .
After the hour mark, Garrett eventually went into the book for a crude challenge on Armstrong after escaping earlier for a rash assault on Sinclair.
The home fans didn’t do themselves any favours with their pathetic booing of the Celtic attacker or skipper Brown.
If it was intended to put either of the players off their stride, it was a monumental waste of time.
The flashpoint came in the 64th minute when Griffiths was delayed taking a corner-kick when the so-called supporters showered him with coins and other objects, including the bottle that could have caused serious damage.
UEFA are certain to hammer Linfield for the crazy actions of their fans.
Brendan Rodgers replaced Griffiths two minutes later to introduce Dembele and 60 seconds after that Jonny Hayes came on for Forrest.
The Republic of Ireland international winger almost made an immediate impact with a run on the right and cross which was met first time by Rogic, but the right-foot shot swept past the upright.
In the 77th minute, another object was hurled onto the playing surface when Hayes went over to take a left-wing corner-kick.
Linfield broke forward on occasion, but it always looked as though the visitors would add to their scoreline.
Credit to ex-Northern Ireland shotstopper Carroll for a defiant performance and the highlight in the second-half was a plunge to his left to push away a clever effort from Dembele.
The ball broke to Lustig whose sidefoot shot was clutched low at the post. In truth, the Swede should have burst the net.
In the last minute, Armstrong was yellow-carded for pushing an opponent following a sly over the top challenge.
The Spaniard missed the initial foul, but was quick to penalise the Celt.
So, Celtic are 90 minutes away from a meeting with either Dundalk or Rosenborg at the next qualifying stage.
They’ll certainly win by a few goals in Glasgow and they’ll be delighted there will be no sign of Senor Hernandez to upset their rhythm.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Sviatchenko, Tierney; Brown, Armstrong; Forrest (sub: Hayes 70), Rogic, Sinclair; Griffiths (sub: Dembele 69).
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