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  • Moi’s last-gasp matchwinner fires Celts into Europa playoff round

    Moi’s last-gasp matchwinner fires Celts into Europa playoff round

    By: Joe Donnelly on 24 Sep, 2020 20:00

  • UEFA Europa League
    Third qualifying round
    Thursday, September 24, 2020
    Skonto Stadium, Riga


    RIGA FC… 0

    CELTIC… 1
    (Elyounoussi 90)

    CELTIC took a step closer to the UEFA Europa League group stages this evening (Thursday) with a last-gasp, but dominant, 1-0 win over Latvian side Riga FC. A 90th-minute winner from second half substitute Moi Elyounoussi made the difference on the night, following a fine cut-back assist from Man of the Match Jeremie Frimpong – also a substitute himself, brought on after 35 minutes for the injured James Forrest.

    In the Latvian capital, the Hoops started well as the hosts sat deep with 10 men behind the ball. Chances were at a premium in the opening stretch, and while pressing high up the pitch, Nir Bitton was forced into a fine sliding tackle at the opposite end to thwart an early counter-attack.

    As Celtic settled into the game, they passed well in possession, often using the width of the pitch to their advantage. The first half-chance of the night fell to Edouard who forced a fine block from Prenga 12 yards from goal, after the Frenchman had burst onto a neat Callum McGregor through-ball. The ensuing corner missed the front post for the incoming Shane Duffy, but the danger was cleared.

    It was one-way traffic in the visitors’ favour over the 20-minute mark, but Riga’s deep-sitting backline held firm and did well to dispose of Celtic’s final ball with each wave of attack. On the scant occasions the Latvians did break rank, they did so on the counter – on 21 minutes, Kris Ajer was dispossessed by Kamess in his defensive third, but Bitton again cleared the Scottish champions’ lines.

    Despite enjoying the lion’s share of possession, the opposing goalkeeper was rarely tested between the sticks after half-an-hour, which made patience a crucial part of the Hoops’ build-up play.

    On 35 minutes, a leg injury forced James Forrest to retire early, and substitute Jeremie Frimpong made his presence felt immediately by bursting down the flank. The move was halted, but the loose ball was eventually recycled by Olivier Ntcham, whose rasping effort from 25 yards was tipped over the bar. The resulting Christie corner was headed back across the face of goal by Duffy, before Bitton’s side-footed effort was well held by Ozols.  

    With five minutes of normal first half time remaining, Edouard sent a magnificent through-ball into the path of the overlapping Callum McGregor. The 27-year-old zipped the ball across the face of goal, but Riga left-back Rugins swept the ball from the path of the advancing Frimpong at the back post.

    Goalless at the break, Celtic returned with attacking intent and forged their first half-chance in the 49th minute. Ntcham, whose vision and passing was on-point throughout, slipped a fine reverse through-ball towards Frimpong on the inside-right channel, the young Dutchman cut back towards McGregor, but the goalkeeper intercepted the midfielder’s advances with a punch from 10 yards.

    The Hoops continued to play the majority of their football in the final third, with Riga scrambling every loose ball clear and proving increasingly difficult to break down. Seconds ahead of the hour mark, Christie fashioned Celtic’s best chance of the game so far when he matched Frimpong’s defence-splitting pass with a fine left-foot that was well-blocked by Ozols.

    With gaps in the home side’s backline beginning to form, Frimpong and Ntcham continued to pair well on the right, while McGregor and Taylor posed a threat on the opposite side. On 65 minutes, Christie forced another fine save from the goalkeeper when he whipped a wicked left foot free-kick from the right through a sea of bodies that was parried clear.

    Seconds after replacing Ntcham on 72 minutes, Albian Ajeti almost put the Hoops in front when Frimpong wrought havoc on the right to cut back from the by-line. The Swiss international pounced, but couldn’t work the ball out from under his feet, and the attack was smothered by the goalkeeper.

    Into the last 10 minutes of normal time, and Celtic threw everything at the business end of the pitch. Despite having missed the opening 35 minutes of the match, Frimpong was the champions’ most dangerous player, and again almost helped the Hoops snatch a goal in the 82nd minute when he hit the by-line to cut back once more, but Ajeti’s front post flick couldn’t reach the incoming Edouard.

    Moments later, the French forward made way for Mohamed Elyounoussi and, having scored two against KR Reykjavik in European competition last month, the Norwegian midfielder grabbed another – this one a last-gasp matchwinner in the 90th minute. Frimpong was again the provider after yet another blistering burst on the right flank, before Elyounoussi picked his spot across the goalkeeper and into the far-left corner of the net.

    The final whistle blew four minutes later and, despite the narrow scoreline, Celtic’s dominant display sees them progress to next week’s UEFA Europa League play-off qualifier.    

    RIGA: Ozols; Petersons, Stuglis, Prenga, Rugins; Wesley Nata, Panic, Roger (Brisola 70); Djurisic, Debelko (Milosevic 67), Kamess
    Subs not used: Purins, Sharpar, Hora, Cernomordijs, N’Kololo

    CELTIC: Barkas; Bitton, Duffy, Ajer; Brown, Taylor, Ntcham (Ajeti 72), McGregor, Forrest (Frimpong 35); Christie, Edouard (Elyounoussi 82)
    Subs not used: Bain, Klimala, Turnbull, Elyounoussi, Elhamed

    Website Man of the Match: Jeremie Frimpong 

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