CELTIC legend John Hughes thought he was caught in a time-warp at Parkhead last night.
Big Yogi, the sixth-highest scorer in the club’s history with 189 goals, watched his old team turn back the clock to overcome Lazio 2-1 in a rollicking Europa League Group E encounter in the east end of Glasgow.
And the iconic Lisbon Lion felt awesome pride as Neil Lennon’s men produced a battling performance against a slick Serie A outfit who had taken the lead in the first-half with a counter-attack that saw a Ryan Christie shot blocked and then three passes to open up the Hoops rearguard for Manuel Lazzari to thump an unstoppable shot beyond the heroic Fraser Forster.
In an exclusive interview with CQN, Hughes said: “This was as gritty a performance as I have seen from a Celtic team in a while. They just refused to roll over and kept plugging away.
“Ryan Christie took his goal brilliantly, real quick thinking to sweep in a left-foot shot from Odsonne Edouard’s perfect;y-weighted pass.
“However, I could hardly believe it when Ryan swung in that right-wing corner-kick in the 89th minute and Christopher Jullien took off to bullet that header past the keeper for the winner.
“It took me right back to a March night in 1967 when we beat top Yugoslav side Vojvodina in the European Cup quarter-final on our way to Lisbon.
“The tie was deadlocked at 1-1 on aggregate and in those days it would have gone to a third game to decide the winners. I think we would have had to play in Rotterdam, as a matter of fact.
“But our big skipper, Billy McNeill, had other ideas. Thank goodness!
“With time ticking down Charlie Gallagher went over to that same spot to take a corner-kick. Charlie’s precision with a deadball was quite fantastic.
“At that time we had Charlie, Bobby Murdoch and Bertie Auld and the three of them were among the best passers of the ball in Europe at the time.
“There was the usual jostling in the box and I took my place around about the penalty spot and Bobby Lenox and Stevie Chalmers, two players with lightning reflexes if the ball was bouncing around, were in their positions, too.
“None of us was required. Charlie flighted it in with his usual devastating accuracy and Big Billy – Caesar to his mates – was impeccable in his timing as he rose above friend and foe to get his head to the cross and his effort flashed high into the keeper’s top left-hand corner.
“As I recall it, the Slavs just had time to kick off and the referee blew for full-time.
“When I saw the ball hit the net last night I couldn’t help but think back to our captain’s winner against an excellent Vojvodina team all those years ago.
“I can tell you Big Billy would have been proud of that header.”
Hughes added: “It was marvellous to see Parkhead rocking. The fans, as ever, were brilliant, Celtic’s 12th man as Jock Stein insisted in calling them.
“They got right behind the players and I accept I might be a wee bit biased, but I have never seen a more magnificent set of supporters in my life.
“We appreciated them back then and I’m sure the players today do likewise.
“All in, a great night of European action at Parkhead and everyone, on AND off the pitch, can feel rightly proud. Well done, lads!”