Jullien soars highest to give Celtic win over Lazio in gripping encounter

French defender heads home 89th-minute winner to set off joyous scenes at Celtic Park

Christopher Jullien heads home  Celtic’s winning goal in the  Europa League Group E match against  Lazio  at Celtic Park. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Christopher Jullien heads home Celtic’s winning goal in the Europa League Group E match against Lazio at Celtic Park. Photograph: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

 

Celtic 2 Lazio 1

This was the first ever meeting of Celtic and Lazio, which did not stop the pair behaving as if old foes. The upshot was a gripping encounter, whereby the lack of artistic merit did not particularly matter. Lazio will feel sharp frustration at not taking a point from a match they contributed so heavily to; Christopher Jullien rose to meet an 89th-minute Ryan Christie corner, with the defender subsequently planting the ball beyond Thomas Strakosha.

That Lazio’s focus may be elsewhere was illustrated by their starting line-up. Simone Inzaghi left Ciro Immobile, whom Neil Lennon branded the best striker in Serie A, among the visiting substitutes. Celtic’s priority is the claiming of their domestic title, for what would be the ninth time in succession, but European matches form such an intrinsic part of the club’s make-up that they would never take a fixture such as this lightly.

The match opened at vertiginous pace. Albeit a source of entertainment, that did not correlate to standards. Neither team could retain possession for meaningful periods during the first 20 minutes. Celtic came the closer to an opening goal as Christie’s 25-yard drive clipped the outside of the post.

The ragged template was maintained until the interval. Celtic lacked the fluency as evident when Cluj were swatted aside and a point was gleaned from Rennes. Lazio were reasonably comfortable when defending; with their attacking threat not particularly evident until the 39th minute. Callum McGregor was the latest Celtic player to fire wide from long range, 38 minutes in, with what appeared a clear deflection from a Lazio defender ignored by the referee.

That decision was to prove significant. Lazio immediately launched a rapid counterattack, which culminated in Manuel Lazzari slamming high beyond Fraser Forster from an acute angle. Lazzari’s was a finish of high quality, as not in keeping with anything that had come before.

Celtic’s quest to haul themselves back into the game would naturally depend to a heavy extent on Odsonne Édouard. The France under-21 striker, who has appeared on the radar of clubs both in England and his homeland, had cut a peripheral figure during the first half. In truth, Celtic’s reliance on Édouard is something they will need to remedy by way of legitimate back-up in January.

Lazio were visibly roused by Lazzari’s ferocious intervention. Joaquín Correa had an opportunity to double the visitors’ advantage, 10 minutes after the restart, but dallied and was dispossessed by Jullien. Correa was wasteful again moments later as he failed to find Felipe Caicedo, who was bearing down on goal.

Édouard’s first meaningful act, 58 minutes in, saw him take advantage of Strakosha’s wandering from the Lazio goal. With the goalkeeper stranded, Édouard backheeled to Christie. The midfielder watched his first-time effort blocked by a defender’s despairing dive. That Lazio had created their own problem rather summed up Celtic’s bluntness in the first hour.

Correa duly passed up the chance that would have made Lazio favourites to win the tie. Celtic’s central defence, as far from convincing all evening, allowed the striker to march towards goal as Sergej Milinkovic-Savic found his teammate with a pass. Correa watched his effort beat the stranded Forster but bounce back from a post.

How Celtic punished the Italians for that generosity. Édouard showed admirable unselfishness to find Christie inside the penalty area, with the latter clipping home in the composed fashion that has become typical. Strangely, this equaliser had arrived at a juncture in the game where Celtic had appeared vulnerable.

If the question now surrounded which team would settle for a point, the answer was neither. Inzaghi demonstrated his new-found ambition by introducing the prolific Immobile, 17 minutes from time. Marco Parolo should have edged Lazio back in front, with Forster instead delivering a fine low save from the captain. – Guardian

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