Brendan Rodgers piles praise on his resilient Celtic
Celtic 5-2 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Boss Brendan Rodgers insists Celtic answered a big question about their mentality during a pulsating 5-2 win over Hapoel Be'er Sheva, which took the Parkhead club closer to the Champions League group stages.
The Scottish champions were cruising at the interval after hitman Leigh Griffiths struck with a header and a brilliant free-kick after attacking midfielder Tom Rogic opened the scoring in a thrilling play-off first leg.
However, two strikes in two minutes after the break from Brazilian striker Lucio Maranhao and captain Maor Melikson had the Israeli side back in the game.
But Celtic steadied, rallied and goals from substitute Moussa Dembele and skipper Scott Brown restored the home side's three-goal advantage for the return game at the Turner stadium next Tuesday night.
Ulsterman Rodgers said: "It is a brilliant result for us. You would obviously prefer 3-0 but 5-2 really shows the level that the team played at in a European game where there is everything riding on it.
"We were excellent in the first half, we pressed them aggressively, created opportunities, scored three and maybe could have had more.
"We started the second half well, I was pleased, then we had a spell when we defended very poorly for 10-12 minutes and conceded two poor goals.
"We didn't reduce the space, there was a little bit of inexperience, and it goes to 3-2 quickly again and then there is a question asked.
"Before the game I mentioned about periods when you come under pressure and it is having those check points in place to stay calm, get control of the game and look to shift the momentum.
"At 3-2, to then go and win the game 5-2, really shows that mental strength of the players as well as the quality. They are nowhere near the finished article yet but they look a really exciting team which is full of character."
In a frenzied start, the goal was not too long in coming.
Griffiths set Scott Sinclair free with a defence-splitting pass and when goalkeeper David Goresh clattered the former Aston Villa forward just inside the box, Rogic followed up to knock the ball into the net.
Moments later, Sinclair went down in the box under a challenge from defender Ovidiu Hoban but play was waved on.
Rogic then had a low drive from outside the box saved but Hapoel tried to push forward and indeed looked slick.
In the 35th minute, as play swung to and fro, Sinclair failed to connect properly with a Kieran Tierney cut-back.
However, five minutes from the interval Griffiths was more clinical when he met a James Forrest cross at the back post to bullet his header into the net before rushing to hug Rodgers on the touchline.
The former Wolves forward was not finished.
After defender Shir Tzedek clambered on him outside the box to pick up a booking, Griffiths picked himself up and sent a curling free-kick into the top corner.
However, the complexion of the game changed dramatically in a two-minute spell after the break. Maranhao drifted too easily into the Celtic penalty area before beating Gordon and as the Parkhead side momentarily reeled, skipper Melikson drilled home a shot from the outside of the box
One by one, on came substitutes Nir Bitton, Saidy Janko and Dembele for Callum McGregor, Mikael Lustig and Rogic respectively as Rodgers looked for reassertion and the latter did exactly that three minutes after coming on when he headed in a Griffiths corner.
As Hapoel responded, Gordon made a great save from Maharan Radi but it was Brown who restored Celtic's three-goal advantage in the 86th minute, which should make the second leg easier, although had Goresh not saved from Sinclair with two minutes remaining it could have been even better.