CELTIC 2 ASTANA 1 (Agg: 3-2)
MOUSSA DEMBELE scored his first goal for Celtic tonight – and fired them through to Friday’s draw for the Champions League play-off.
It was another evening of high drama at Parkhead before the Hoops took care of extremely dangerous opponents from Kazakhstan.
Remarkably, it took two penalty-kicks from Leigh Griffiths and Dembele to settle the frantic enounter after Astana scored with their only effort on target to level the game on aggregate.
The game ended in uproar as Shitov was sent off after picking up his second yellow card following a wayward challenge on Dembele to give away the last-minute spot-kick.The former Fulham player, without a goal for the club since joining in June, was given the opportunity to open his account and the 20-year-old Frenchman was calmness personified as he swept the ball to keeper Eric’s right to send a packed Parkhead towards into ecstasy.
Shonko argued too much with Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs and he, too, was sent packing leaving the vistors with nine men at the conclusion.
It had been tight in the first-half with the Kazakhstan champions well drilled and happy to play a cat-and-mouse game.
But the breakthrough goal arrived on the stroke of half-time after some catastrophic defending from Astana on the edge of their box.
It looked as though a Hoops move had broken down before a dreadful header from Canas back into the danger zone created all sorts of panic.
The defending right-back took a wild swing at the ball as Kieran Tierney came charging in and he wiped out the young Celt with a reckless swipe.
Referee Kovacs had absolutely no hesitation in pointing to the spot as the visitors angrily complained. They were wasting their time – it was a stick-on spot-kick.
Griffiths stood, hands on hips, while the situation calmed down. When he got the go-ahead, the frontman stepped forward and executed the perfect penalty-kick as he thumped it into goalkeeper Eric’s left as the Astana captain took off to his right.Parkhead erupted in a mixture of relief and joy after a tough first-half against difficult opponents who were set up to frustrate the Scottish champions.
There was a bit of sparring at the start and it took until the 14th minute before Brendan Rodgers’ side, with Efe Ambrose failing to make the squad, had an opening.
Mikael Lustig picked out Griffiths with an excellent 50-yard pass, but, unfortunately, the frontman couldn’t bring the ball under control and he was crowded out.
Six minutes later, Tierney swung over a superb left-wing cross and Shanko got in just before Patrick Roberts to head the ball back to his grateful keeper.
And in the 22nd minute, Scott Brown brought gasps from the packed stadium with an unorthodox athletic scissor’s kick from just inside the box as he connected with a right-wing corner-kick from Stuart Armstrong. Unfortunately, it swung just wide of the target.
Roberts was clearly struggling to get into his stride and his contest ended in the 31st minute when he limped off to be replaced by Stefan Johansen. Immediately, the Norwegian went to the left-hand side of the midfield with James Forrest moving over the right.
Three minutes from the interval, Callum McGregor combined with Armstrong inside the box to fashion an opening, but the former Dundee United star’s effort was easily saved by Eric.
Then came the barrier-breaker from Griffiths from the spot on the stroke of half-time.
And the prolific frontman could have made sure only two minutes after the turnaround when McGregor and Johansen combined to set him free in the box on his favourite left foot, but he slashed a shot into the sidenet.
Two minutes later, Saidy Janko, raiding on the right, sent over a low cross and Tierney tried his luck from the edge of the box, but the keeper made an unorthodox save as he kicked clear off his line.
In the 56th minute there was a massive sigh of relief when a free-kick from Twamasi was knocked into the net, but the flag was up for offside.
On the hour mark, there was a loud cheer as Kolo Toure, the 35-year-old Ivorian defender, came on to make his debut for the tiring Stuart Armstrong as Rodgers changed things around again.
But two minutes later, there was a shock when Astana levelled all against the run of play. Craig Gordon raced from his line to head clear, but, unfortunately, the ball landed straight at the feet of Ibraimi who sent a measured lob back over the stranded keeper and Tierney into the net.
Celtic, after so much of the game, had it all to do again. Rodgers took off Forrest and sent on Dembele in the 75th minute and a memorable moment was only 15 minutes away for the new Bhoy.
Now we have the anxious wait for Friday’s draw – and, hopefully, another fabulous European evening in Paradise!
In the next stage, the Hoops will meet one of the following: Copenhagen, Dinamo Zagreb, Dundalk, Hapoel Beer Sheva or Ludogorets.