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Video Highlights - CFR Cluj 1 - 1 Celtic
Celtic survived a nervy night as they returned to Glasgow with an away goal and a draw from their Champions League qualifier with CFR Cluj.

Celtic survived a nervy night as they returned to Glasgow with an away goal and a draw from their Champions League qualifier with CFR Cluj.

On a tense evening defensively, the Romanians threatened to make life difficult for Neil Lennon's side.

Mario Rondon gave Cluj the lead but James Forrest equalised before the break with a precious strike.

Celtic will go into next week's second leg as favourites to meet Slavia Prague in the play-off round.

But Lennon will have concerns over how they were exposed down the left, with an Arsenal-bound Kieran Tierney, and Scott Sinclair, both missing.

Scott Bain thwarted Cluj on numerous occasions on a busy evening for the Celtic goalkeeper.

Pre-match, Cluj manager Dan Petrescu suggested his side needed a miracle to qualify, but it was obvious from kick-off that wasn't the message he had given his team. They tested the Celtic defence with a string of crosses and set-pieces, and were encouraged to test the visitors down their left-hand side.

Tierney and Sinclair may have played their final games for Celtic, with a £25m fee agreed with Arsenal for the former. Their absence presented opportunities to Lewis Morgan and Boli Bolingoli. Although they had started Champions League qualifiers this season, due to what was at stake this tie was the biggest test of their short Celtic careers.

But both struggled, picking up first-half yellow cards and being culpable as Cluj turned their early pressure into a lead.

As the hosts broke from a Celtic corner, former St Mirren winger Morgan missed an interception, and the pitch opened up on the right-hand side. Rondon was played onside by a sleeping Bolingoli, and after beating the Belgian for pace he then coolly finished through the legs of Bain.

All of a sudden flashbacks to previous nights when Celtic had come unstuck in qualifying sprang to mind. But just when you thought they were in trouble, Forrest breathed life back into the visitors.

Last season's Player of the Year played a one-two with Hatem Elhamed, took a step on to his left foot and drove in a low shot off the inside post.

And Forrest was one player the hosts could not pin down. A second-half run across the face of the Cluj box finished with a pinging low shot that was not too far away from giving Celtic a dream lead to take home.

Celtic may have felt they should have played the last 25 minutes against 10 men, with Scott Brown scythed down by Mateo Susic, but the referee elected to show only a yellow.

The game swung from end to end as both teams made it clear they weren't there to settle for a draw.

Bolingoli, Kristoffer Ajer and Odsonne Edouard all headed wide for Celtic, but then Alexandru Paun unleashed a powerful effort which Bain couldn't hold, and George Tucudean scooped the rebound over the bar.

In the end it will be Celtic who will be happier to have left a difficult first leg in Romania in control of the qualifier.

The importance of scoring goals in away ties in Europe has been evident throughout the years, and the strike from Forrest just six minutes after going behind could prove vital if Celtic are to progress to the final Champions League qualifying stage.

There was plenty to like about this performance from Lennon's side with Forrest, along with striker Edouard, a constant threat to the Cluj defence.

Morgan was a surprise inclusion due to the injury to Mikey Johnson, and the 22-year-old put in a fair shift down the left flank until he was replaced by Olivier Ntcham with 25 minutes left.

The Celtic centre-back pairing of Jozo Simunovic and Ajer were also pressured on occasion with Rondon keeping them on their toes, however left-back Bolingoli will need to sharpen up if he wants to retain his place in the back four.

But it was captain Brown who stole the show for Celtic. In what at times was an intimidating atmosphere he had some crucial interventions in midfield, breaking up the home attack and then finding a searching pass putting the home side on the back foot.

There should be few surprises for Celtic next week as Cluj boss Petrescu rarely alters his style of play away from home. And Cluj have shown they know the way to goal on the road having scored in four of their last five away games in Europe including a double against Maccabi Tel Aviv last week.

Posted by voc1967 on Wednesday 07 August 2019 - 21:43:42 | Comments (0)  |  printer friendly
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