Celts Confirm A Place In European Football Until Christmas
Earlier tonight, Celtic won 0-2 in Finland against HJK Helsinki, with goals from Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras. Minutes after Ledley’s second half opener, Victor Wanyama was sent off for a second “bookable offence” by the Austrian referee. I have put “bookable offence” in inverted commas because it was, at least in my opinion, a fairly soft sending off. In saying that, perhaps inexperience did play a small part, as the young Kenyan is still in the process of learning his footballing trade and, with an older head on his shoulders, he may not have attempted the challenge for which he received his second booking.
The Hoops missed several chances early on, as they took on the champions of Finland on a summer night at the Sonera Stadium. Scott Brown squandered an early opportunity as he found himself one on one with the goalkeeper, and Samaras went fairly close soon after. The home side missed some opportunities too, but Celtic certainly had the best of the first half.
However, as the second half began, there were undoubtedly some nervous members of the Celtic support, as everyone knew a 1-0 win for the home side would send them through on the away goals rule. The Bhoys were incredibly fortunate not to concede early in the second period, as the away defence parted like the proverbial “Red Sea” and HJK missed a glorious chance to take the lead.
Some time later, and against the run of play at that stage, Charlie Mulgrew crossed beautifully from the right hand side for Joe Ledley to head the ball home, and to ease the pressure being felt by Celtic supporters around the world. However, once the Hoops were reduced to ten men, the nerves re-emerged as we all knew the Bhoys would have to play for the majority of the half a man down.
Neil Lennon quickly replaced Gary Hooper and Kris Commons with James Forrest and Beram Kayal, as Celtic aimed to defend their lead and counter attack when the opportunity presented itself. With a few minutes remaining, Celtic took advantage of HJK pressing men forward, and Georgios Samaras coolly slotted home to send Celtic into the next round. Daryll Murphy came on late on for the Greek striker.
With the Champions League play-off draw being made on Friday, supporters worldwide will be looking on with anticipation to see who will be visiting Celtic Park in the coming weeks. The teams whom Celtic can draw are: CFR Cluj (Romania), Helsingborg (Sweden), Maribor (Slovenia), Hapoel Kiryat Shmona (Israel), and AEL Limassol (Cyrpus).
Regardless of who we draw, the prize on offer is certain; a place in the Champions League group stages for the first time in years. This would bring with it a significant financial bonus for the Football Club.
However, even if Celtic lose their play off, they will automatically be granted a place in the group stages of the Europa League, guaranteeing the club and the fans European Football until Christmas.
Tis the season to be jolly right enough!