CELTIC 4 LINFIELD 0 (Agg: 6-0)
SCORCHING Scotty Sinclair sent Celtic sizzling past the Linfield Champions League obstacle at Parkhead this evening.
The flamboyant English attacker won yet another Man of the Match award as he took the game by the scruff of the neck and propelled Brendan Rodgers’ side into the next stage of the European adventure.
Sinclair snapped up two opportunistic strikes and only a combination of a fabulous save and the woodwork denied him a well-deserved hat-trick.
Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong netted the other efforts beyond overworked Roy Carroll to give the Hoops a comfortable 6-0 aggregate triumph over the Belfast outfit.
Now the treble-winners will welcome Rosenborg to the east end of Glasgow a week tonight for the first leg of the third round qualifier.
The Norwegians had to rely on an extra-time goal to overcome plucky Dundalk 2-1 on the night and 3-2 on aggregate in Trondheim.
A packed Parkhead was rocking as early as the fourth minute when the alert Sinclair claimed the opening goal.
Mikael Lustig started the move with a precise angled ball to the English attacker who touched it inside for new Bhoy Olivier Ntcham.
The French Under-21 midfielder, last week’s £4.5million recruit from Manchester City, didn’t hesitate as he thumped it goalwards.
It took a deflection off a defender, but Sinclair continued his forward thrust to pick up the rebound and nonchalantly tuck an angled drive beyond the sprawling and helpless Carroll.
In the 13th minute, Moussa Dembele should have doubled the advantage when an insightful pass from Kieran Tierney picked him up smack in front of goal.
Remarkably, last season’s 32-goal man scooped the ball wildly over the crossbar.
Five minutes later, the French hitman was out of luck when he bulleted in a ferocious header from a Sinclair left-wing corner-kick.
The ball was raging goalwards until it hit a Linfield defender and ricocheted to safety.
Even early on, Sinclair looked lively and dangerous while the skilful Ntcham impressed with his eagerness to get forward and try his luck from range.
Rogic was within inches of netting the second goal after his usual bewildering switch of feet just inside the box, but his finishing drive swept just wide with Carroll helpless.
The Linfield goal bore a charmed life and it escaped again in the 34th minute when Scott Brown and Rogic combined to set up Sinclair coming in from the left, but his finishing effort edged wide of the far post.
Three minutes later, Dembele beat the offside trap, rode a challenge and then missed by yards with only Carroll to beat. Last season he would have burst the net.
Celtic were dominating, as expected, but they lacked a clinical finishing touch and that was highlighted again when Sinclair, of all people, was sloppy with an effort from a good position after a defence-splitting lobbed pass from Rogic.
The Irish, obviously frustrated at being given the runaround, were beginning to lunge into tackles and Robert Garrett, booked last week, completed the double with a vicious challenge that flattened Sinclair. Another referee on another night and it would have been a straight red card.
Robust Irish striker Andy Waterworth then caught Jozo Simunovic on the forehead with a reckless elbow and the defender had to leave the field with blood flowing from the wound. The Swiss match official Stephan Klossner decided to take no action.
A one-sided first-half came to an end with Scottish Cup hero Rogic passing up a marvellous opportunity from eight yards when he, too, almost unbelievably managed to miss the target with Carroll already preparing to fetch the ball from the back of his net.
The Aussie was far too nonchalant with his sidefoot effort and knocked it wide of the upright.
A minute into the second-half and Rogic regained his Wizard of Oz title with an exquisite second goal.
No danger threatened when the midfielder picked up the ball about 40 yards from goal.
He had a change of pace and direction, cut the ball onto his favoured left foot and whipped a curled a low shot wide of the despairing Carroll.
In the 54th minute, the veteran keeper was beaten again – and once again Sinclair underlined his attacking instincts.
He pushed a ball forward to Ntcham, but the pass was intercepted by a desperate defender. However, it broke loose and the fans’ favourite lashed an unstoppable effort high into the net.
Sinclair was denied a hat-trick with a superb effort that was diverted onto the crossbar by Carroll.
Rodgers then made a double substitution within a minute with Armstrong and Jonny Hayes coming on for Ntcham and Forrest.
In the 74th minute, Kundai Benyu, who shone for an hour against Lyon at the weekend, was introduced to competitive football as a Celt when he replaced McGregor.
A minute into stoppage time, Armstrong completed the rout with the fourth goal.
Rogic sauntered into the danger zone, the ball was knocked away from his twinkling toes, but it fell straight to Armstrong who blasted the ball into the roof of the net.
Game over, job done, now bring on the Norwegians!
TEAM: Gordon; Lustig, Simunovic, Tierney; Brown, McGregor (sub: Benyu 74), Rogic; Forrest (sub: Hayes 67), Ntcham (sub: Armstrong 66), Sinclair; Dembele.