ANDERLECHT 0 SUPER CELTIC 3
BRENDAN RODGERS demanded that his Celtic players show progress in Europe this season – and they delivered big-style in Brussels this evening.
An emphatic three-goal triumph highlighted the fact the Hoops are learning at this level and they showed a ruthless streak to come back after the disappointment against Paris Saint-Germain.
But this was a different game against a team who lacked the quality of the French giants and Celtic made their superiority count.
Leigh Griffiths snatched the crucial opener, the tenacity of Paddy Roberts paved the way for the second and Scotty Sinclair put a gloss on the scoreline with the third deep in stoppage time.
It had been a long time coming – five years after an away triumph in Moscow – but this resounding result is the one that can open up all sorts of possibilities for Rodgers’ men in Europe in this campaign.
The breakthrough goal seven minutes from the interval was a thing of beauty in terms of speed, vision and execution.
Dedryck Boyata rolled a pass to Olivier Ntcham whose passing up until that moment had been worryingly awry. However, the French Under-21 midfielder, getting the nod before Stuart Armstrong in the starting line-up, threaded a breathtaking pass through the Belgians’ back lot.
Kieran Tierney’s timing in his surge forward was perfection as was his low ball across the face of goal that eliminated keeper Frank Boeckx and his defenders.
Griffiths was all alone at the back post as he raced into space and thumped a right-foot effort into the inviting net.
It was a goal Celtic deserved, but the moments leading up to the strike hadn’t been without their frustration.
Ntcham was the main offender in surrendering possession when under little pressure. Rodgers’ men had a lot of the ball, but it must be said some of the decision-making was poor and the final ball was sloppy.
That was emphasised in one cameo when Sinclair, normally so massively in control in tight situations, couldn’t find Tierney with a 10-yard pass that sparked an attack from the home outfit.
The Belgians looked fairly content for their opponents to dwell on the ball in their own half and look to hit quickly on the break, mainly utilising the speed of Henry Onyekuru, a player, of course, known to the Hoops boss.
In fact, within a minute of Griffiths’ opener, Anderlecht were presented with an opportunity, but Craig Gordon dealt competently with Sofiane Hanni’s menacing low left-foot effort.
The opening 45 minutes were peppered with the Scottish champions losing impetus with slack passing and, despite having 70 per cent of the possession, it took them until the 25th minute to gain their first corner which came to nothing.
However, the second-half was only five minutes old when the Hoops doubled their advantage.
Veteran Olivier Deschacht failed to control a crossfield pass 20 yards out and Roberts snapped into action.
The winger robbed the 36-year-old defender, took a touch and fired a shot at goal. It took a deflection off the desperately-diving Mbodji as the ball zipped past the helpless goalie into the rigging.
Only minutes beforehand, there had been a scare for the visitors when a simple throw-in from the left allowed Hanni a clear shot at goal. Gordon blocked the effort and, thankfully, the lumbering Lukasz Teodorczyk was offside as he followed up. He missed, anyway, but it served as a warning.
Ntcham recovered from his nerve-riddled opening 46 minutes and began to look like the player Rodgers had shelled out £4.5million for in the summer.
To be fair, he never hid even when he was going through a tricky spell and he finished as one of the top Celts.
Roberts, in fact, could have claimed a third just before the hour mark after some fabulous lead-up work from Sinclair and Tierney, but he slashed the ball wide of the upright from a great position.
Substitute Callum McGregor, on for Tom Rogic, missed a reasonable opportunity, too, when he was set up by the inexhaustible Griffiths.
The midfielder couldn’t sort out his feet, unfortunately, and the chance was lost.
Scott Brown limped off in the 70th minute to be replaced by Nir Bitton and it looked as though the skipper was struggling with a hamstring pull.
With 13 minutes to go, James Forrest also made an appearance for the hard-working Roberts as Celtic sought to see the game out.
They did better than that, though, three minutes into stoppage time when Ntcham released Sinclair and the flamboyant attacker was calmess personified as he launched the ball into the roof of the net.
Bring on Bayern!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Boyata, Tierney; Brown (sub: Bitton 70), Ntcham; Roberts (sub: Forrest 77), Rogic (sub: McGregor 65), Sinclair; Griffiths.
The CQN Podcast: A Celtic State of Mind (EP14) Champions League Special
A Celtic State of Mind offers an insight into the culture of Celtic Football Club, the city of Glasgow, and fans of the reigning invincible Scottish champions.
Each episode includes interviews with ‘Celtic-minded’ figures from the world of sport, music, film, art, broadcasting, literature or politics.
Ahead of the crucial Champions League match against Anderlecht, ‘A Celtic State of Mind’ goes behind the Champions League curtain for Celtic’s opening match against PSG.
Kevin Graham provides pre and post-match discussion with members of his CSC, as well as in-match analysis in what will be a regular Celtic State of Mind feature.