TWO typical strikes from lethal Leigh Griffiths gave Brendan Rodgers his second win as Celtic manager after his ambitious players served up a victory over the Slovenian champions who completed the season six points clear of the Hoops’old European foes Maribor.
It was another excellent work-out for the Parkhead men against opponents who were always dangerous on the break.
Early on, after both teams had shots just off target, Karoly Novak tried his luck from just outside the box, but his effort was smothered by the alert Craig Gordon.
Moussa Dembele, wearing Celtic’s new black-and-gold strip, had an opportunity in the 16th minute to score his first goal on his debut for the champions when he seized on a loose ball on the edge of the penalty area.
The French Under-20 international striker, just signed from Fulham, fired in a whiplash drive, but the sting was taken out of his effort as it struck a Slovenian defender and fell nicely into the keeper’s arms.
Four minutes later, Dembele menaced again when he went through on a pass from Griffiths, but the outrushing goalie diverted the ball for a corner-kick.
Dreadful defending in central defence, with Erik Sviatchenko and Efe Ambrose posted missing, presented an opportunity to the home side in the 24th minute, but the Olimpija forward nodded the ball harmlessly over the bar with Gordon rooted to his line.
However, Griffiths broke the deadlock three minutes later with a typical lightning opportunistic effort from 18 yards.
The Slovenian defence was put under pressure by Saidy Janko, again impressing at right-back, and a misplaced pass found its way to the feet of last season’s 40-goal hitman.
He took a touch and steadied himself before drilling a low left-foot drive wide of the helpless keeper. It was Griffith’s first goal of the pre-season tour following the efforts from Nadir Ciftci and Tom Rogic in the 2-2 draw with Celje on Thursday and Ryan Christie’s winner over Sturm Graz on Sunday.
Kieran Tierney, who scored his first goal for the club in the 7-0 romp against Motherwell on the last day of the season, came close to doubling the Hoops’ advantage as he stormed in from the left wing to unleash a low angled effort, but he was denied by the diving keeper.
Rodgers would no doubt have been delighted with the early promise of Dembele who looked eager and hungry as he chased forward passes and kept the pressure on the opponents.
It was noticeable, too, that Nir Bitton was shifting the ball a lot quicker than normal as he kept pace with the tempo demanded by Ronny Deila’s successor.
Skipper Scott Brown, after only half-an-hour of action in the previous two encounters, was also getting involved as he imposed himself on the midfield.
The action in the first-half came to a halt with Gordon comfortably dealing with an inswinging left-wing corner-kick.
Rodgers resisted the temptation of a complete change of personnel at the interval and put out the same team to start the remaining 45 minutes.
Within a minute of the second-half, Johansen sent Dembele clear on the left, the teenager pulled the ball inside onto his right foot, but his low angled drive was pushed away by the scrambling shotstopper.
The Slovenians, playing in an all-green strip, passed up the opportunity to equalise shortly afterwards when an attacker swept a cutback beyond Gordon’s right-hand post when he should have at least hit the target.
Dead-eye Griffiths scored a sensational second goal in the 56th minute to underline he aims to carry on in the new campaign where he left off last season.
The prolific marksman collected a ball on the right, the Slovenians backed off and the striker took a couple of touches as he switched the ball to his lethal left before flashing an effort beyond the despairing dive of Aliksandr Salija.
Two minutes later, the Slovenian title-holders pulled one back when a ball was back-headed into the danger zone, Ambrose hesitated and Gordon had no chance as a shot sailed over his left shoulder high into the net.
Next up, Tierney, continuing to power forward, lashed in a low angled drive which was fumbled by the keeper before being booted for a corner-kick.
The left-back then made way for Emilio Izaguirre in the 63rd minute as Rodgers made his expected changes. Nadir Ciftci, Tom Rogic and Ryan Christie also came on with Dembele, Liam Henderson and Brown making way.
Celtic then made three quickfire opportunities in the space of two minutes – and passed up the lot. Ambrose headed a right-wing corner-kick wide of the post from close range, Ciftci had a drive blocked by the keeper and Christie squandered the best chance of them all after he was set up with a cute pass across goal from the Turkish frontman.
Amazingly, with the goal gaping in front of him, the young Highlander clattered the ball off the crossbar when it looked impossible not to score with the goalie out of position.
And Olimpija matched that miss when Novak screwed one over the crossbar from 12 yards smack in front of goal.
Rodgers sent on Callum McGregor for Johanson in the 73rd minute. Rogic then put Christie clear with a lovely disguised pass, but his finishing effort was too close to the goalie and the ball bounced for a corner-kick.
Belgian Logan Bailly replaced Gordon 14 minutes from time as Rodgers kept his line-up fresh as the game ticked down to its conclusion.
Scott Allan and Patrick Roberts also came on late in the game and the on-loan Manchester City winger had a chance to net a third after a cutback from Christie, but the ball was scrambled clear from under the crossbar.
At the full-time whistle, Rodgers would have declared him satisfied with the effort from his new team.
CELTIC: Gordon (sub: Bailly 77); Janko, Ambrose, Sviatchenko, Tierney (sub: Izaguirre 63); Brown (sub: Rogic 63), Johanson (sub: McGregor 73), Bitton, Henderson (sub: Christie 63); Griffiths, Dembele (sub: Ciftci 63).
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