SARAJEVO 0 CELTIC 1
ODSONNE EDOUARD once again demonstrated how much he means to Celtic when he was the Europa League play-off matchwinner in Bosnia tonight.
It was the flamboyant Frenchman who pounced with the only strike in a tough and tense tie to propel the Hoops into the group stages of the competition.
Edouard was the man on the spot to tuck away the golden goal in the second-half as Neil Lennon and his team-mates breathed a collective and massive sigh of relief.
It was so typical of the highly-rated frontman who makes a habit of gatecrashing the headlines.
Early on, Edouard and his team-mates appealed for a handball as he tried to flick a pass into the path of Mohamed Elyounoussi. As they say, we’ve seen them given, but not on this occasion as the referee waved play on.
There was a quick change for the Hoops after Nir Bitton took a knock in the seventh minute and was eventually forced off. He was replaced by his fellow-Israeli Hatem Abd Elhamed.
As anticipated, the visitors had the bulk of possession as they tried to claim the breakthrough goal, something that eluded them last week in Latvia where they required a last-gasp strike from Elyounoussi to reach this stage.
In the 13th minute, Vasilis Barkas was brought into action as the Bosnians broke at speed and Benjamin Tatar fired in a strong drive. However, the Greek international made a comfortable stop.
It was a warning for Celtic that the home side were capable of storming from one end to another at high speed and also getting shots on target.
Jeremie Frimpong, as elusive as ever, was sent crashing to the ground by a cynical challenge in the 23rd minute and the match official awarded an obvious free-kick.
Ryan Christie curled in the ball from the right, but it eluded both Shane Duffy and Kristoffer Ajer at the far post and the chance was gone.
Barkas looked confident as he took the pressure off his defence when he held on well to a right-wing free-kick. He also released Edouard with a swift kick-out, but the Sarajevo defenders cleared the danger as they swarmed around the Frenchman who looked as though he could do with some support up front.
In the 40th minute, Christie’s deft flick into the box was knocked down by Edouard to Elyounoussi 12 yards out. The Norwegian international elected to hit the ball first time and keeper Kovacevic smothered the effort low down at his left-hand post.
The Hoops continued to probe, but they were finding it difficult to break down a side who were content to put two banks of four in front of them to protect their goal.
It was shades of Latvia a week ago with Lennon’s men doing all the pressing and their opponents happy to soak it up and look to hit on the counter.
And the Bosnians did surge forward just before the half-time whistle when they hurtled up the left wing, but the finishing attempt was powderpuff and Barkas wasn’t troubled.
There was work to be done for Lennon during the interval, The Hoops needed to up the tempo and show a bit more imagination in their final pass. Easy to say, of course, but not quite as simple to execute.
The referee baffled Duffy two minutes following the break when he blew for a foul after it had been quite clear the Republic of Ireland central defender had timed his leap perfectly to outjump Ahemtovic to head clear the ball on the halfway line.
In the 50th minute, Greg Taylor clipped in a neat pass from the left and Christie got in front of the defender, but his touch was off and the ball sailed wide.
Ajer then fluffed an opportunity from only six yards following a Christie corner-kick and the Norwegian defender knew he should have done so much better.
Four minutes later, Elyounoussi snapped in an 18-yarder that was well collected by the diving Kovacevic.
There was a scare for the Hoops shortly afterwards when Duffy got caught under a right-wing corner-kick, but his Sarajevo opponent failed to take advantage and sent a header spinning well wide of the target.
In the 63rd minute, Christie burst into the game as he accepted the responsibility of having a go from long-range, but his left-footed 25-yard drive hurtled over the crossbar with the keeper at full stretch.
Skipper Scott Brown was dropping deeper and deeper as he tried to take control at the back and set moves in motion from behind.
In the 68th minute, a lovely delivery from Christie from a left-wing corner-kick picked out the unguarded Elhamed, but the defender’s first-time drive from 12 yards swept wide. He should have hit the target at least.
In the 70th minute, Edouard finally got the barrier-breaking goal that Celtic so richly deserved by dint of their possession and eagerness to make a game of it.
Elounoussi played his part in the crucial strike when he teed up Christie to wallop in a low angled effort that flummoxed keeper Kovacevic. He couldn’t gather the ball and as it broke away from his grasp, Edouard arrived bang on time to slide the ball into the inviting net.
Moments later, Edouard set up Taylor, but the left-back’s shot lacked power and precision and then Christie saw an effort scrambled clear as he broke through.
In the 75th minute, goalscorer Edouard, looking fairly exhausted after a good hard-working shift, came off with Patryk Klimala racing on to take his place.
Nine minutes later, Klimala had a dreadful miss smack in front of goal when he failed to get his head to a superb cross from Frimpong. It looked as though the Polish hitman couldn’t miss, but the ball somehow eluded him.
Olivier Ntcham then came on for Christie as Celtic tried to see the game out.
And that’s exactly what they did as they claimed their place in the group stages of the competition.
TEAM: Barkas; Bitton (sub: Elhamed 10), Duffy, Ajer; Frimpong, Brown, McGregor, Christie (sub: Ntcham 85), Taylor; Elyounoussi; Edouard (sub: Klimala 75).