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Lincoln Red Imps feel force of Celtic backlash

By Ronnie Esplin

Published 21/07/2016

Celtic put part-time Lincoln Red Imps in their place with a 3-0 Parkhead win that set up a Champions League third round qualifying meeting with FC Astana.

The Hoops had been embarrassed by a 1-0 defeat in last week's first-leg in Gibraltar, in what was new boss Brendan Rodgers' first competitive game.

However, Celtic burst out of the traps eager to get revenge and three first-half goals from defender Mikael Lustig, striker Leigh Griffiths and winger Patrick Roberts had the tie finished before the break, with the second-half a mere formality.

The Scottish champions will fly to Kazakhstan next week and while Astana, who booked their place in the next round with a last-gasp winner against Lithuanian side Zalgiris, will present a bigger challenge, Ulsterman Rodgers will be pleased with the way his side handled this potentially tricky match.

Celtic fans were given a pre-match boost when Bobby Lennox, who played in the club's European Cup final win over Inter Milan in 1967, and Rosemary Burns, wife of former Celtic player and manager Tommy Burns, helped unfurl the 2015-16 Premiership flag to raucous cheers.

Rodgers' attacking set-up - Erik Sviatchenko was the only recognised centre-back - saw the visitors blitzed from the first whistle.

It looked like the home side had been awarded a penalty in the ninth minute when midfielder Stuart Armstrong went down in the box after a trip by defender Ryan Casciaro, but, after consulting with his assistant, referee Bartosz Frankowski gave a free-kick at the edge of the box which Griffiths blazed over.

Midfielder Callum McGregor then cracked the bar with a deflected strike from 20 yards before he had a toe-poked effort from 12 yards pushed past the post by Imps keeper Raul Navas for another fruitless corner.

The breakthrough was, however, inevitable and Lustig's goal in the 23rd minute came when the Red Imps failed to clear Armstrong's curling free-kick into the packed box.

Skipper Scott Brown was involved and when the ball fell to Sweden full-back Lustig, he turned and swept it into the net.

The Gibraltarians' resistance was shattered and three minutes later Griffiths drove in a second from the edge of the box after cutting in from the right.

In the 29th minute the impressive Roberts worked a one-two with McGregor and curled the ball past Navas from 10 yards for number three with the keeper denying Celtic striker Moussa Dembele six minutes later.

The Red Imps would have welcomed the interval, but early in the second-half striker Lee Casciaro, who scored the winner in Gibraltar, almost notched again when he got behind Sviatchenko, only to screw his shot wide of the far post.

The visitors were enjoying some possession for the first time in the match but it was Griffiths who should have scored in the 65th minute when he met Lustig's pinpoint cross with his head, only to miss the target.

The luckless Dembele did the same with an angled drive from a more difficult position before he was replaced by Nadir Ciftci - Kristoffer Ajer and Emilio Izaguirre had already come on as substitutes - before Sviatchenko headed a McGregor corner past the post.

There was time for Navas to make a point-blank save from Griffiths, who then had the ball in the net only to be ruled offside, but by then it mattered little.

Goalscorer Roberts said after the game: "We're only a couple of weeks in so there's time to improve but we're starting to kick on now.

"The manager has a lot of players and he chooses the players but I'm ready to play.

"I've loved being out there since I've come here and when I get the chance I try my best.

"I love football, I've enjoyed it since I was a kid and whenever I get the ball I try to do something special.

"I want to play in the Champions League, it has always been my dream.

"It's a team game so you've got to do what's best for the team.

"It was incredible out there with the flag and the fans singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone'. It was special.

"It was disappointing last week, it was a tough place to go, but we should really be winning those sorts of games.

"We had to make it better. Thankfully we did that and put a good performance in."

Belfast Telegraph

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