It was a fiery encounter in Transylvania as Celtic secured a vital 1-1 draw in their Champions League third qualifier against CFR Cluj.
The Bhoys will be buoyed to have snatched an invaluable away goal ahead of the return fixture on Tuesday, but the Romanian outfit proved problematic this evening and certainly won’t lie down when they travel to Parkhead next week.
CFR Cluj 1-1 Celtic: Five key points…
- CFR Cluj went ahead through Mario Rondon on the 28th minute.
- Celtic struck back just minutes later courtesy of James Forrest.
- Chances were few and far between but Celtic will be satisfied with a score draw.
- The second leg takes place at Celtic Park next Tuesday.
- The winner will take on SK Slavia Prague of the Czech Republic in the final play-off phase.
The hosts got their noses in front during the first-half after Venezuelan forward Mario Rondon timed his run to collect a neat Ciprian Deac pass, before racing through on goal and slotting past Scott Bain.
Cluj were in dreamland, but the goal sparked life into Neil Lennon’s side, and just six minutes later the Glaswegians pegged back their challengers thanks to an exquisite finish from the ever-reliable James Forrest.
In typical style the wing-wizard collected the ball, jinked, beat his man, and fired a low drive to level proceedings, providing the Hoops an imperative away goal heading into the second leg.
At times the match threatened to spill over as tempers flared and the intensity increased, but Celtic kept their nerve and held out. There is still much work to do in Scotland next week, but this was a precious result for Lennon.
Key player: James Forrest
On a night where Celtic didn’t really find their usual rhythm, Forrest proved a beacon of consistency on the flank, threatening whenever in possession and doing the dirty work when his defensive capabilities were required.
It was his moment of inspiration that has kept Celtic firmly on track to reach the Champions League group stages, and he will be key next week as Lennon’s side look to get the job done and move on to Prague.
Opening his account for the season, the Scotland international’s finish was a trademark strike, receiving the ball just wide of the goal, before cutting inside, creating space and intelligently finding ample room between the sticks.
His low drive cannoned off the woodwork and has put Celtic in a crucial position for the return fixture. Never afraid to show for the ball, Forrest was once again the MVP for the Scottish champions this evening.
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Tierney’s potential transfer a major cause for concern?
Should Kieran Tierney depart for Arsenal, then of course that would spell danger for Celtic, but the situation may be much more ominous than initially feared.
Summer recruit Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo is seen in Glasgow as the heir to Tierney’s throne should their prized asset part for north London, but this evening the Belgium-born full-back had a game to forget.
His exploits defensively were erratic to say the least, while his decision-making in the final third proved equally concerning – not what you want to see when arguably your best player could be about to leave.
With a chance to make a statement and show Celtic fans that life post-Tierney won’t be all doom and gloom, Bolingoli-Mbombo only managed to enhance that nervy undertone on the Parkhead terraces with his display at the Stadionul Dr. Constantin Radulescu.
What they said
Lennon was naturally in exultant mood having seen his side pluck up the courage to get back into the game, and he reserved special praise for a certain academy star.
He said: “It’s a great result. Obviously, the away goal’s priceless.
“We looked really dangerous. They scored a great goal on the counter attack. Our reaction to the goal was superb.
“James Forrest is a big game player. He’s come up again with a really important goal.
“We’ve got home advantage now and we need to make that count. Defensively, we’re still a work in progress. We’re making steady progress.”