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STURM GRAZ 0 CELTIC 1

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BRENDAN RODGERS celebrated his first triumph as Celtic manager after Ryan Christie’s matchwinner over the Austrians at the Mercury Arena tonight.
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The Irishman would have been happy with yet another stern work-out for his squad as they continue their pre-season preparations before the forthcoming Champions League qualifiers this month.

French Under-20 international striker Moussa Dembele, last week’s signing from Fulham, wasn’t risked.

In the opening minutes, Saidy Janko and Stefan Johansen, captain for the day, combined on the right to set up a chance for Ryan Christie on the edge of the penalty box, but his left-foot drive lacked power and precision and was easily saved by the keeper. 

A lapse in concentration by Eoghan O’Connell gifted an opportunity to the Austrians, but Logan Bailly wasn’t tested as the ball was fired wide of his right-hand upright.

In the 14th minute, a slick move gave Christie an opening to loft over a cross from the left, but his elevation was slightly awry and the ball sailed high over the head of Nadir Ciftci who had taken up a good position at the near post.

Next up, Emilio Izaguirre slung in a ball from the wing, but there was no-one in the vicinity to finish it off.

In the 21st minute, Ciftci powered beyond a defender to try to pick out Christie at the far post, but a defender got in first to clear at the expense of a corner-kick.

Two minutes later, Christie returned the favour with a neat ball through the defence to the Turkish striker who sidestepped the diving keeper, but, inexplicably, hit the ball wide of the target with the goal gaping 10 yards away.

The deadly touch that saw Ciftci score a second-half header against Celje in the 2-2 draw on Thursday – and impressed Rodgers while doing so – unfortunately momentarily deserted the frontman. 

Uros Matic, brother of the Chelsea midfielder, had a long-range drive, but it didn’t unduly trouble Belgian keeper Bailly as it thundered over his crossbar.

Jamie McCart made a lung-bursting run from defence after the half-hour mark, but Ciftci was slow to react to his final pass into the box.

Ten minutes from the interval, Scott Allan got the break of the ball and then had the presence of mind to knock an inviting low ball across to Christie who was unmarked as he stormed in to fire an effort into the inviting net.

Sixty seconds later, Liam Henderson had the chance to double the Hoops’ advantage, but shot straight at keeper Christian Gratzei when he would have been expected to do so much better.

Janko, who arrived a year ago from Manchester United, would certainly have caught the eye of his new boss with his powerful running on the right while Henderson, Christie and Allan were busy in midfield just behind Ciftci, who also worked hard, but his first touch deserted him this early in the pre-season.

Israeli international Nir Bitton was the only player to remain on the pitch as Rodgers made his promised avalanche of changes at the interval.

Ten minutes after the turnaround, Stuart Armstrong, who looked lively last week when he came on against Celje, was denied a wonder goal by a brilliant save from the Sturm Graz keeper.

The former Dundee United midfielder curled in a fine 25-yard drive that was heading for the top left-hand corner until the Austrian shotstopper catapulted across his line to claw the ball to safety.

Skipper Scott Brown, who sat out the run-in to last season through injury, made an appearance just after the hour mark when he came on for Bitton.

Craig Gordon had to look alert in the 67th minute when the Austrians broke into attack and Christian Dobras thumped in a low effort from the edge of the box, but the Scotlamd international No.1 dived full length to his right to hold the ball firmly.

Patrick Roberts showed a glimpse of his dazzling ability in the 71st minute when he tricked and teased his way in from the right, but his blistering 18-yard finishing effort was just off target with the keeper motionless.

Emergency centre-back Kristoffer Ajer, normally a midfielder, made a brilliant interception shortly afterwards as he stopped a Sturm Graz assault with a timely tackle.

Underlining the Hoops’ domination of possession was the fact their opponents won their first corner-kick 12 minutes from the end. The set-piece ended with a 20-yard shot being slashed over Gordon’s bar.

And the Celtic No.1 made an excellent save four minutes from the end when Helmut Gruber zipped in a vicious angled 18-yard rive that was destined for the net until the keeper took off in athletic fashion to punch the effort to safety.  

CELTIC FIRST-HALF: Bailly; Janko, McCart, O’Connell, Izaguirre; Johansen, Bitton; Christie, Allan, Henderson; Ciftci. 

CELTIC SECOND-HALF: Gordon; Ralston, Sviatchenko, Ajer, Tierney; Lyndsay, Bitton (sub: Brown 62); Roberts, Armstrong, McGregor; Griffiths.

 
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