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  • Bhoys make play-offs with battling performance in Baku

    Bhoys make play-offs with battling performance in Baku

    By: Martin Dalziel in Baku on 05 Aug, 2015 19:19

  • UEFA Champions League

    Third round qualifier, second-leg

    Tofiq Bahramov Stadium

    Wednesday, August 5, 2015


    FK QARABAG...0

    (Celtic 1-0 on aggregate)

    CELTIC progressed to the play-off stages of the UEFA Champions League qualifiers thanks to a nail-biting 0-0 draw with FK Qarabag in Azerbaijan.

    The Bhoys’ 1-0 aggregate lead from last week’s first-leg of their third round qualifier, courtesy of Dedryck Boyata’s late header, proved to be enough for Ronny Deila’s men, who battled the heat, a difficult playing surface and a well-drilled home team to make it to the final hurdle before the group stages.

    Despite brining only a limited number of supporters with them to Paradise last week, the home side managed to pack out the ground for the fixture with fans waving flags, beating drums and belting out deafening chants to create an electric atmosphere before kick-off.

    Fears over the playability of the surface subsided on the day of the game as the pitch was heavily watered, as did concerns over the scorching heat, which was cooled somewhat by a mild wind throughout the ground.

    Ronny Deila opted to field the same side which recorded the 1-0 win over Qarabag last week but tweaked the formation to put Nir Bitton in front of the defence and a flat four across midfield.

    That gave Nadir Ciftci the sole responsibility of leading the line up front and the Bhoys tried to find him early with a string of cross-field passes but they couldn’t find the target.

    Qarabag were the first to threaten out of both teams when they won a corner on 10 minutes but the ball-in rattled off a home team player’s hand in the box, stopping the danger for Celtic. A second well-worked corner from the hosts then allowed Richard Almeida to line up a shot in the box but he sliced his effort wide and the Hoops survived.

    Tenacious work from Stuart Armstrong then won the ball for Celtic deep in Qarabag’s half and he skipped past two challenges to work his way into the box but the home side defence hooked the attacker’s cut-back clear midway through the first-half.

    The Celts began to find their rhythm after that and looked to be only one pass away from tearing open the home side’s defence, with Gary Mackay-Steven leading the charge, but a quick counter-attack from Qarabag allowed Almeida to fire off the best chance of the half with a cracking shot from 20 yards. Hoops goalie Craig Gordon was equal to the effort, however, and pulled out a world class one-handed save to palm the strike wide of goal on the half-hour mark.

    Alarm bells went off again for the Bhoys when a clever Qarabag pass made it through to Dani Quintana in the box but he slipped and the Celts defence lashed the ball out for a corner, which was scrambled clear.

    It was then the Celts’ turn to attack when they won their first corner five minutes before half-time but the home defence managed to clear. Bitton then almost found the opener of the evening with an audacious shot from just inside the home side’s half after spotting Ibrahim Sehic off his line but the keeper recovered and saved his team’s blushes before the interval.

    Play retained the look of the first-half after the restart with Celtic trying to hold onto the ball and hit on the break and Qarabag keen to press high up the pitch.

    The home side created two good chances from corners inside the first 10 minutes of the second-half with a shot from Badavi Huseynov which went well over and a first-time effort from Rashad Sadygov from 20 yards, which also sailed over Gordon’s cross bar.

    The Celtic goalie then made his first save of the second-half to gather El Jadeyaoui’s week shot from the right flank and the catch allowed Celtic to take a better grip of the game and push further up the pitch.

    The Bhoys began to pass their way through the Qarabag midfield but the hosts defence was resolute in the face of the Celts attacks.

    Qarabag were dangerous on the break as well and Celtic’s push forward left gaps at the back. El Jadeyaoui looked to capitalise on that after 65 minutes when he found the ball at his feet in the area at the back post but the Bhoys blocked his shot well and cleared.

    Ronny Deila then introduced Leigh Griffiths to the play in place of Ciftci as the champions sought to stretch the home side’s tiring defence. Qarabag also introduced fresh legs upfront as the game approached a nervy conclusion but it was Celtic who looked on top as the clock ticked down and they almost stole the win in the dying minutes through Stefan Johansen.

    Armstrong’s relentless hounding of the Qarabag defence won the ball for Celtic 18 yards out and he slipped Johansen in with a great pass but the Norwegian’s first-time shot screwed agonisingly wide of Sehic’s left post.

    Substitutes Kris Commons and James Forrest were deployed to keep the Bhoys up the pitch and the Scotland winger could have calmed the nerves with just minutes left when he squirmed past three challenges and into the box but elected to pass, rather than shoot, allowing the hosts to clear.

    The home side came forward again and again as the game reached its conclusion but Celtic showed maturity and experience in defence to see out the tie and send the Hoops into the play-offs.

    CELTIC (4-1-4-1): Gordon; Lustig, Boyata, van Dijk, Izaguirre; Bitton; Brown, Mackay-Steven (Commons 78), Johansen, Armstrong (Forrest 83); Ciftci (Griffiths 66’)

    Not used: Ambrose, Rogic, Janko, Bailly,

    FK QARABAG (4-3-2-1) Sehic; Gurbanov, Huseynov, Sadygov, Agoli; Quintana, Garayev, Almeida; El Jadeyaoui (Mammadov 73), Reynaldo; Poepon (Ismayilov 62)

    Not used: Veliyev, Mustafayev, Yunuszada, Taghiyev, Diniyev

    Website man of the match: Scott Brown 

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