Celtic climbed top of their Europa League group and went some way to avenging their shock Champions League exit to Cluj by convincingly beating the Romanians in Glasgow.
The Scottish champions were dumped out of the third qualifying round in August by Dan Petrescu’s side, but Neil Lennon’s men coasted to victory to follow up their draw in Rennes.
Odsonne Edouard started Celtic off in the first half before Mohamed Elyounoussi netted his first goal for the club after the break.
There was no real danger of a repeat of the shock that halted Celtic two months ago, despite Kevin Boli rightly having his effort for the visitors ruled out for offside with the game at 1-0.
Rennes’ 2-1 defeat in Rome now means Neil Lennon’s side go into the double header against Serie A giants Lazio, starting off in Glasgow in three weeks’ time, in a strong position with a one-point lead.
Celtic turn dominance into goals
Petrescu took unwell in Glasgow on the eve of the game and ducked out of his pre-match media commitments. Celtic wanted to make sure they did little to aid his recovery, and left him truly sick to his stomach with the way they set about this match.
Few in the stadium were surprised when Boli Bolingoli crossed delightfully on to the head of Edouard to send Celtic Park into a rapturous rendition of their favourite Stone Roses hit I wanna to be adored, with the lyrics slightly adapted to I wanna be Edouard.
It left Cluj facing the music for failing to withstand the torrent. And I don’t just mean the incessant rain that made the Celtic Park surface extra skiddy. When the Romanian champions came to town in mid August, a flat start from Celtic made life very comfortable for the visitors. Not the case at all this time around.
As the heavens opened, Celtic poured forward straight away, threatening to flood their opponents in a deluge of chances. Twice they could have scored earlier via the towering figure of defender Christopher Jullien but the Frenchman’s first header was well saved and the second was wayward, sailing over the bar. James Forrest was played in but his delivery across goal had no takers.
There is no VAR in the Europa League but the officials were still quick to cut Boli’s celebrations short by a flag for offside. The correct call, TV replays would later show. Try telling that to the Cluj players, who howled their protests at the German referee Daniel Siebert.
What Celtic craved was a second goal to turn their dominance into a more tangible advantage. Forrest almost provided it just after half-time but shot wide. But just when Cluj thought they had weathered the storm, Elyanoussi picked the right night to score his first goal for Celtic. On loan from Southampton, he started and finished a flowing move, albeit his shot spun past the keeper on the greasy surface after taking a huge deflection off a defender.
At the other end, they needed Fraser Forster to stay alert, and he did, tipping Billel Omrani’s dangerous shot across his goal away from danger. Up the other end Celtic sprinted with Forrest skipping through the raindrops to bring another tidy save from the Cluj keeper.
Celtic’s fans could have enjoyed their night even more. Ryan Christie was a whisker away from touching in a fine Elyanoussi cross while Edourd fired just over in the last few minutes as he sought a second, and a third for his team.
What a difference a few weeks make. Down and out of the Champions League after scoring three times against Cluj but conceding one more, this looks and feels like a different Celtic. Their aim is European football in the New Year. Two matches into the group, they’ve made promising progress down that road already.
Man of the match – Boli Bolingoli
There were several contenders in a Celtic shirt. Edouard was excellent up front, ably assisted by wide men Forrest and Elyanoussi. Brown, Christie and Callum McGregor rarely put a foot wrong in midfield. But I’m going further back in the team for my man of the match.
Last time Cluj were in town, Bolingoli was dropped after a very shaky start to his Celtic career and midfielder McGregor took his place against the Romanians. How he’s grown into life in Scotland since. His pace down the left side caused Cluj problems all night and he provided a fine assist for the first goal.
His performance wasn’t a total bed of roses, though. He still has a mistake in him and made a few here. But for his energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to work – added to the undoubted quality he possesses in the opponent’s half – I’ll give the Belgian full-back the man of the match award.
- Since losing to Cluj at Celtic Park in August, Celtic have remained unbeaten in their subsequent 11 games in all competitions (W9 D2)
- This was Celtic’s biggest European group stage win at home since beating Rennes 3-1 in the Europa League in November 2011
- Four points is Celtic’s joint-best start to a campaign in the Europa League since 2014-15
- Cluj’s starting XI had an average age of 30 years and 10 days; the third oldest in the Europa League this week
- Odsonne Edouard has scored in five of his last six appearances at Celtic Park in all competitions.