A WHIRLWIND three-goals-in-six minutes blast fired Celtic into a meeting with Kazakhstan’s Astana in the next stage of the Champions League qualifiers.
The Hoops, shocked 1-0 in last week’s first leg in Gibraltar, swept their semi-professional opponents towards oblivion in front of a large and noisy crowd at Parkhead this evening.
There was never any doubt about the outcome of the tie as Brendan Rodgers’ team, urged on constantly by the eager support, kicked off in top gear in an effort to claim the first goal that would settle the nerves.
Goalkeeper Raul Navas, a hero in the first leg, looked in the mood for more heroics, though, and denied Moussa Dembele his first Celtic goal with a block early on.
Rodgers had told his players to be patient and the goals would come. They plugged away, but the hard-working Red Imps rearguard formed a formidable barrier.
However, they collapsed in disarray when the Hoops got the crucial breakthrough goal in the 23rd minute. A free-kick wasn’t cleared properly and Mikael Lustig pounced to blast a left-foot shot into the top corner with Navas helpless.
Three minutes later, the keeper was picking the ball from the back of his net again when the five-in-a-row champions turned the tie on its head with a second strike.
It was last season’s 40-goal hitman Leigh Griffiths who provided the killer touch as he skipped past a defender, took aim and zipped a low ball in at the post.
The Gibraltarians were still reeling when the home side netted again to send the fans into ecstasy – and propel the Hoops towards the third qualifying round.
Patrick Roberts, looking lively right from the off, cut inside and played a neat one-two with Callum McGregor. He took the return in his stride before slotting his effort away from Navas.
Parkhead was rocking as Rodgers’ game plan of 3-5-2 worked perfectly against their game opponents who had enjoyed their 15 minutes of game last week.
The tempo after the interval dropped a bit and Red Imps were desperate to try to get back into the encounter.
A rare moment of hesitancy from Erik Sviatchenko allowed the Gibraltar champions sight of Craig Gordon’s goal, but the opportunity was squandered with the finishing shot rolling tamely wide of target.
Rodgers replaced Kieran Tierney with Kristoffer Ajer just before the hour mark and, later in the game, put on Emilio Izaguirre and Nadir Ciftci for James Forrest and Dembele.
Celtic kept control of the game and Griffiths should have added to the first-half tally when he went through one-on-one with Navas, but he allowed the keeper to knock the ball to safety via an outstretched leg.
At time-up, Rodgers would have been happy with the dominating display of the team, but knows he now faces a tricky trip to Kazakhstan before he can even think about the Champions League play-offs.
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Sviatchenko, Tierney (sub: Ajer 58); Roberts, Brown, McGregor, Armstrong, Forrest (sub: Izaguirre 64); Dembele (sub: Ciftci 75), Griffiths. 

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