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  • McMullan fires young Celts into knockout stages

    McMullan fires young Celts into knockout stages

    By: Mark Henderson on 21 Jan, 2015 21:08

  • Princes Park, Dartford
    Premier League International Cup
    Wednesday, January 21, 2015

    CELTIC...1
    (McMullan 45)

    VILLARREAL...0

    PAUL McMullan’s goal on the stroke of half time was enough to secure a hard-fought victory for Celtic’s Development Side over Villarreal and book their spot in the knockout stages of the Premier League International Cup.

    The striker stabbed home after Charlie Mulgrew picked him out in the middle following some concerted pressure from the young Hoops.

    After the interval, the Bhoys defended resiliently in Dartford to thwart the Spanish side and bank maximum reward, ensuring they would finish their group campaign unbeaten with seven points.

    And Stevie Frail’s side can now look forward to further exciting matches against English or European opposition over the remainder of the season.

    In the first competitive match of 2015 for Frail’s side, there was a smattering of experience in the starting XI. Mulgrew made an appearance in central midfield as he continued his comeback from injury, while Liam Henderson and Darnell Fisher, who had both featured recently for the first team, were also included.

    In difficult underfoot conditions, it took some time for both sides to adjust, with Manuel Jose Garcia’s low effort, gathered at the second attempt by Leo Fasan, the only incident of note in the opening exchanges.

    However, the Spanish side almost took a 14th minute lead spectacular style. Winger Alfonso Pedraze controlled a diagonal ball, before unleashing a vicious, dipping half-volley. The ball flew beyond Leo Fasan but crashed off the underside of the bar and to safety.

    Fasan then came to Celtic’s rescue, with a quick-fire double save from Jose Garcia and Pedraze following a Villarreal corner as the La Liga side began to exert some control on proceedings.

    With Francisco Lopez’s side still on top, Stuart Findlay had to turn a dangerous cross from Felipe Alonso over his own bar and a number of Hoops defenders had to throw themselves in front of shots.

    Gradually, the Bhoys fought their way back into the contest and began to craft out some chances, giving the Hoops faithful, scattered around the ground, cause for encouragement.

    Some silky footwork from Henderson on the half-hour mark saw him drift away from several challenges and then shoot inches over from the corner of the box. Mulgrew also fired high and wide with a free-kick from an acute angle.

    At the other end, Fasan came to the rescue of Frail’s side, making a superb reflex save to turn Jose Garcia’s header over from point-blank range.

    The Hoops were now in the ascendancy, though, and Villarreal defender Israel Puerto looked lucky to avoid a red card nine minutes from half time after Henderson went down off the ball. Although the referee spoke to the defender, after consulting with his linesman, no action was taken.

    Another flurry of efforts followed from the fired-up young Celts - Lindsay had a shot blocked and Joe Thomson was inches away from finding the far corner after cutting back onto his left foot.

    On the stroke of half-time, the pressure paid off. Henderson floated a free-kick towards Mulgrew, who was left in acres of space as the Spaniards tried and failed to employ an offside trap. He looked up and unselfishly rolled the ball into McMullan’s path and the forward applied the finish.

    There was a scrappy start to the second half, with neither side able to fashion a meaningful sight of goal. Jose Garcia glanced a header over that Fasan had covered, while Thomson had a powerful shot blocked  for the Bhoys after a purposeful break forward  on the hour mark.    

    Simon Moreno spurned a golden chance in the 68th minute, blasting over when a loose ball dropped invitingly for him in the box. Henderson replied with a stinging shot from distance that drifted wide and then curled an ambitious free-kick over.

    As the game entered the closing stages, Villarreal committed more men forward in search of a late leveller but a combination of determined defending and assured goalkeeping from Fasan kept them at bay.

    Substitute Carlos Joel Melgareso forced Fasan into a smart save six minutes from time and Jose Garcia blazed over, but the young Celts bravely held on to claim the three points and book a well-deserved place in the next phase of the tournament.

    CELTIC (4-2-3-1) Fasan; Fisher, O’Connell, Findlay, Waters; Mulgrew (Hill 56) Lindsay; Thomson, Henderson, Herron; McMullan (Miller 90+2)

    Not Used: Kelleher, Hart, Breslin, McCart, McIlduff

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