GOALS from Efrain Juarez and Georgios Samaras gave Celtic a well-deserved 2-0 victory over FC Utrecht in the first leg of the Europa League play-off.
A composed and entertaining performance from Neil Lennon’s men has put Celtic in the driving seat for the second leg in Holland next Thursday.
The Hoops boss made three changes to the side which kicked off the seasonat Inverness on Saturday, with new Bhoys Daniel Majstorovic and Beram Kayal making their Hoops debuts, while Juarez slotted into central midfield.
Utrecht looked dangerousin the early stages of the game but it was Celtic who dominated most of the first 45 minutes of play. The home side controlled the ball well, with 22-year-old Kayal orchestrating much of the play.
And it was the Isreali who began Celtic’s first real chance on goal on 14 minutes when a long ball to Samaras cut open the Utrecht defence. His cross into the six-yard box was blocked and fell to Shaun Maloney but his effort was saved by Dutch goalkeeper Michel Vorm.
Kayal was the creator again four minutes later, this time for Celtic’s opener. A superb through ball was dummied by Samaras for Juarez and the Mexican coolly fired the ball into the back of the net to put the Hoops 1-0 ahead.
A good cross into the box by Cha Du Ri was met by the head of Juarez on the half-hour mark as the midfielder looked to get a second goal, but his effort was wide of the target.
However, just three minutes later Celtic were 2-0 ahead and Cha was the provider. A long ball across the face of goal was missed by the Utrecht defence and allowed Samaras, who was at the back post, to control it on his chest before slamming a close-range shot in to double the Hoops’ advantage.
Joe Ledley, who was playing in the left-back role, played Samaras through five minutes into the second half, but no-one was up to support the striker and his pass into the box came to nothing.
First half substitute Edouard Duplan had a good opportunity to pull one back for the visitors on 60 minutes when he got onto the end of a long ball from the left wing. But he couldn’t get the angle on his header and his attempt was tipped over the bar by Zaluska.
Utrecht frustrated Celtic by sitting deep in their own half but Kayal, Juarez and Scott Brown remained compsed in the midfield, though the Israeli was forced to come off after 69 minutes, with James Forrest replacing him, and the standing ovation for the new Bhoy was an indication of how well he'd done on his Hoops debut.
And Forrest had a good opportunity to add Celtic’s third when he headed down a Cha cross, but Vorm managed to dive low and smother the ball.
And minutes later Juarez could have doubled his own tally for the night when he unleashed a dipping effort from the edge of the box, but it failed to carry any threat and fell wide of the post.
Celtic had a shout for a penalty three minutes from time when Maloney’s run into the box was cut short, but the referee waved play on, and the game finished a pleasing 2-0 in Celtic’s favour.
Europa League play-off
Thursday, August 19, 2010
(Juarez 18, Samaras 33)
Man of the Match: Beram Kayal
CELTIC (4-5-1) Zaluska; Cha, Loovens, Majstorovic, Ledley; Fortune, Brown, Kayal (Forrest 69), Juarez, Maloney; Samaras
Subs not used: Cervi, McCourt, Ki, Murphy, Towell, Conroy
UTRECHT (4-4-2) Vorm; Lensky (Nijholt 81), Schut, Cornelisse, Nesu; Silberbauer, Wuytens, Asare, Mertens; Mulenga (Duplan 16), Wolfswinkel
Subs not used: Sinouh, Oar, Van Der Maarel, McGuire, Keller