Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Astana 4 Celtic 3 (4-8 agg): Rodgers´ men weather second-half storm to reach Champions League group

SoccerNews in Scottish Premier League 22 Aug 2017

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Celtic survived a storming second-half comeback from Astana to reach the group stages of the Champions League despite a 4-3 defeat in Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

Brendan Rodgers’ side had needed a stoppage-time penalty from Moussa Dembele to defeat the same opponents in the third qualifying round last year, but a repeat of such a nervy finish seemed unlikely this time around thanks to a 5-0 first-leg advantage.

Following Kristoffer Ajer’s own goal, the third of the tie after Astana twice put through their own net at Celtic Park, any hope of an unlikely comeback from the hosts was seemingly extinguished when Scott Sinclair brilliantly levelled.

However, Astana had their visitors firmly on the back foot with two quickfire strikes through Serikzhan Muzhikov and Patrick Twumasi to open the second period.

Twumasi then took advantage of some awful defending to leave Astana needing three more in just over 20 minutes but they failed to take the numerous opportunities that fell their way and Olivier Ntcham and Leigh Griffiths calmed Celtic fears in the final 10 minutes to secure an 8-4 aggregate win.

One outstanding positive for Rodgers’ men was Sinclair’s sumptuous curling effort, which took his tally in qualifying to five and his early-season form has helped to ensure the absence of Dembele – out with a hamstring injury – has hardly been felt.

Dembele scored 32 times last season and is a target of Marseille, who confirmed their interest in the striker earlier on Tuesday.

Despite their commanding advantage, Celtic made just two changes from the first leg and, far from resting on their laurels, were the first to threaten in the 16th minute, as Callum McGregor played in Sinclair, whose effort was charged down by Evgeny Postnikov.

McGregor stung the palms of Nenad Eric with a rasping drive soon afterwards, but it was Astana who opened the scoring against the run of play in the 26th minute.

Dmitri Shomko was allowed to advance into space on the left before unleashing a shot that was flying wide until Ajer stuck out a leg and diverted it beyond the wrong-footed Craig Gordon.

Celtic were only briefly behind, however, and it was Sinclair who proved Astana’s scourge once more, cutting in on his right foot and curling a fabulous effort beyond Eric into the far corner.

Gordon’s fine fingertip save from Marin Anicic’s header preserved parity on the night shortly before half-time and Astana came out with renewed vigour following the break, scoring twice within four minutes.

Scott Brown’s inadvertent flick-on fell perfectly for Muzhikov to poke home and almost immediately Twumasi was left all alone to nod in Shomko’s left-wing cross.

Celtic appeared to have weathered that storm but, after Griffiths blazed over an excellent chance, Astana moved upfield and Twumasi was allowed to run unchallenged into the box and squeeze his effort past Gordon at the near post.

Astana were suddenly rampant again and Gordon had to save from Twumasi, Muzhikov and Ivan Maevski in the space of a minute before Twumasi rifled a gilt-edged opportunity over.

And he would be left to rue that miss as Ntcham and Griffiths finally ended Astana’s lingering hopes to confirm Celtic’s place in Thursday’s draw.

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