It's a €20m Paradise for Celtic after nail-biting victory over Spartak
SOCCER: Celtic 2 Spartak Moscow 1: On a nervous night in Glasgow, during which the football was rarely pretty, Neil Lennon was afforded the finest triumph of his managerial career to date. This win catapulted them into the Champions League’s knock-out stages. Few could quibble over them deserving that place.
Kris Commons was the Celtic hero here, with a penalty which saw off Spartak Moscow. That Spartak were probably worthy of a draw, and enjoyed more possession for long spells, is irrelevant. Celtic’s qualification is worthy of immense credit.
The win for Lennon’s team ensured 10 points from a Champions League group for the first time in Celtic’s history. It also, crucially, bettered Benfica’s scoreless draw in Barcelona.
Before kick-off, Celtic’s anxiety could more reasonably have stemmed from Catalonia rather than Glasgow as Barcelona’s team for the visit of Benfica was noticeably understrength. Lionel Messi was among the substitutes but Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas, Javier Mascherano and Jordi Alba were absent altogether.
Such a selection, of course, was Barca’s prerogative given they had secured progression to the last 16. Any concept of “reserves” must also recognise Barcelona’s strength in depth.
Celtic’s task in any event was simple: to pick up where they left off when Barcelona were conquered on a memorable occasion here last month.
Of more concern to Celtic’s manager would have been the edgy start of his team, which was in tune with the stadium atmosphere. Spartak, who had nothing other than pride to play for, used that spell to display the kind of fluency which contradicted the theory they are a club in turmoil.
Still, it took 16 minutes for a goal threat of any kind. It arrived from the Russians, as Kim Kallstrom played a fine one-two with Artem Dzyuba before curling a 20-yard effort just wide.
Spartak’s blunder in affording Celtic the opening goal was therefore a surprise. Georgios Samaras played a hopeful ball forward, which Juan Insaurralde should easily have cut out. Instead, the Argentine woefully miscued his clearance straight to the feet of Gary Hooper and the striker lashed a low shot beyond Sergei Pesyakov.
Spartak’s response was admirable, given their circumstances. The impressive Emmanuel Emenike shrugged off the attentions of Beram Kayal before playing in Ari, who offered a deft chip over the onrushing Fraser Forster. Kelvin Wilson’s despairing goalline header only helped the ball into the net.
Celtic’s start to the second half was brighter than it had been in the first. Their captain, Scott Brown, miscued a decent opportunity from inside the Spartak penalty area before Samaras struck the outside of a post with a close-range volley.
That effort was immediately followed by a first, inaccurate ripple of news suggesting Barcelona had taken the lead. Spartak sought to regain impetus by introducing Aiden McGeady, a player once of this manor.
Charlie Mulgrew came within an acrobatic Pesyakov save of sending Celtic back in front. Commons had been the creator with a corner. A set-piece looked like Celtic’s best hope of a winner. And so it proved.
Samaras tumbled under a challenge from Marek Suchy, in winning what was a soft penalty. Celtic didn’t care about that, with Commons displaying wonderful nerve to blast home the spot-kick via the crossbar.
Kallstrom displayed Spartak frustration with a boot at Commons, which resulted in a red card for the Swedish midfielder. Commons departed on a stretcher but soon returned to join his team-mates in epic celebration. How Celtic had earned it.