CELTIC 3 MALMO 2
CELTIC face a real test when they take on Malmo in the second leg of their Champions League play-off in Sweden on Tuesday.
Unbelievably, they conceded a second goal FIVE minutes into added-on time at Parkhead last night to throw a lifeline to their opponents who looked out in their feet after only 10 minutes.
To make matter worse, it was Jo Inge Berget who scored the two goals that will make next week’s tie a nervy, tense encounter.
Yes, the same Jo Inge Berget who could hardly do anything right during his six-month loan period from Cardiff City last season.
It was a remarkable transformation to the scoreline when he wasn’t picked up smack in front of goal after the defence failed to clear a left-wing corner-kick.
It fell perfectly for the Norwegian and he swivelled to catch it full on the money to hammer it high past the exposed Craig Gordon.
Celtic restarted the game and the referee immediately blew for full-time. And it’s now all to play for in Malmo – a two-goal advantage thrown away so carelessly.
And yet it should have been so different. Ronny Deila’s men started at a whirlwind pace that threatened to sweep the Swedes into oblivion.
The Hoops raced into a two-goal advantage in the first 10 minutes as the supporters went wild with delight. It was just the beginning they could only have dreamed of before kick-off.
The first arrived in the third minute to totally mesmerise the Malmo rearguard. Stuart Armstrong came in from the left on a powerful surge before sliding a pass in front of Stefan Johansen. The quick-thinking Norwegian knew instinctively where Leigh Griffiths was lurking and he pierced the defence with a ball into the tracks of the in-form striker.
And Griffiths, starting his first European game of the season in place of Nadir Ciftci who was on the bench, took one touch with his right before stroking the ball under the helpless Johan Wiland.
Seven minutes later, Parkhead was in joyous uproar as the Hoops doubled their lead – and once again Armstrong was involved with a run and cross from the left. The ball was hastily cleared for a right-wing corner-kick, but the celebrations were merely delayed for a matter of seconds.
Johansen swung a cross smack into the danger area and Nir Bitton, as he did against Stjarnan in Iceland, climbed above friend and foe to get his gead to the swirling ball to nod down and away from the keeper.
Celtic were rampant as they stormed forward on both flanks and in the 13th minute Emilio Izaguirre, Griffiths and Johansen combined with speed and accuracy, but the Norwegian’s effort was cleared for another corner-kick.
Four minutes after that, Griffiths, storming in from the right, flashed a left-foot drive at goal from the edge of the box, but the ball zipped just wide with Wiland scrambling.
Celtic began creating problems for themselves with some sloppy passing and Dedryck Boyata had to look smart to clear a right-wing cross after Izaguirre had committed himself to an early challenge.
In the 23rd minute, Gordon was awakened from his lethargy when he dived full-length to his left to touch away a rasping drive from Nikola Djurdjic from the edge of the box.
To be fair to the Swedish champions, they rode out the early storm and had some possession in the Celtic half. In the 36th minute, Vladimir Rodic was allowed to drift in from the right, but his finishing shot lacked precision and flew harmlessly over the bar.
However, a minute later, normal service was resumed when Armstrong came within inches of claiming a third goal.
Once again, the energetic midfielder cut in from the left to send an arcing right-foot shot towards the top left-hand corner of the net. The keeper was helpless, but the ball, unfortunately, carried just wide of the upright.
Seven minutes after the turnaround, the unthinkable happened when Berget scored the first of his double.
Celtic actually wasted possession at a right-wing corner-kick and the defence was all over the place as the Swedes broke forward and the ball was switched to Berget on the left. He took a touch before lashing an unstoppable drive across Gordon in at the far post.
However, there was singing in the rain in the east end of Glasgow once more when Griffiths, who will celebrate his 25th birthday tomorrow, netted again with a wonderful piece of chance-snatching.
Mikael Lustig swung in a ball from the right which was headed into the air by Anton Tinnerholm. Griffiths saw his chance as the ball came back to earth, jumped with excellent timing and nodded the ball high over the startled keeper.
There was a little flurry between Scott Brown and Erdal Rakip. German referee Felix Brych surprised them book by flashing two yellow cards.
There was the sad sight of Lustig, who had been so composed, pulling up after chasing a ball on the right in the 78th minute. Efe Ambrose was immediately sent on for the Swede, who looked as though he had a hamstring injury on his left leg.
Nadir Ciftci, on for Griffiths, marked his appearance by picking up a yellow card in injury time.
And, as the clocked ticked down, Malmo snatched their second goal with practically their last kick of the game.
Celtic will know there is a massive confrontation to come on Tuesday. Once again, the players will have to realise the game lasts 90 minutes. Lapses in the last three games have cost the team dearly.
They must shut up shop in Malmo if the Champions League is to become a reality. It’s not beyond them.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig (sub: Ambrose 78), Boyata, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Brown, Bitton; Forrest, Johansen, Armstrong (sub: Mackay-Steven 62); Griffiths (sub: Ciftci 74).