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Bumbling Celtic sink to Euro low with Gibraltar loss

By Ronnie Esplin

Published 13/07/2016

Looking glum: Brendan Rodgers reacts
after the final whistle
Looking glum: Brendan Rodgers reacts after the final whistle

Brendan Rodgers' first game as Celtic boss ended in humiliation as his Hoops side were humbled 1-0 by part-timers Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar in the first-leg of their Champions League second qualifying round clash at the Victoria Stadium.

The Parkhead side laboured in the searing heat of the goalless first 45 minutes and were stunned when policeman Lee Casciaro, who had scored Gibraltar's first international goal against Scotland at Hampden in 2015, sensationally put the semi-professional minnows ahead in the 47th minute.

Hoops striker Leigh Griffiths hit the woodwork twice as the Scottish champions battled for their dignity but, buoyed by their stunning breakthrough, the home side held out for a result which ranks as the most embarrassing in Celtic's European history.

The return game at Celtic Park next week should still be a formality, but Ulsterman Rodgers' tenure has begun in the worst possible way.

It had promised - and was expected - to be a stroll for the Glasgow club.

There were around 300 Celtic supporters in the away end - some more interspersed with the home fans in the crowd of less than 2,000 - to see French striker Moussa Dembele make his competitive debut on his 20th birthday.

Attacking midfielder Ryan Christie was making his European bow, with last season's top scorer Griffiths shunted wide on the right.

Swedish referee Andreas Ekberg punctuated the opening stages with his whistle, mainly for fouls against Celtic, although Hoops defender Efe Ambrose picked up a booking in the 10th minute for a foul on the night's hero, Casciaro.

The Bhoys, wearing their black and gold kit, huffed and puffed.

A couple of crosses from Griffiths failed to find a team-mate before goalkeeper Craig Gordon was forced to make a decent save from Liam Walker's low 20-yard effort as the home side slowly began to edge forward.

In the 31st minute, Dembele headed in skipper Scott Brown's free-kick, but was adjudged to have fouled keeper Raul Navas on the line.

Five minutes from the break, Navas pushed a powerful drive from Dembele past the post for a corner which came to nothing before the Celtic striker fired an angled-drive wide of the far post.

The match exploded into life two minutes after the restart, following a Navas save from Griffiths.

Casciaro took advantage of Ambrose's hesitation when chasing a long Walker pass to stab the ball past Gordon to widespread disbelief.

Moments later, as Celtic reeled in a state of shock, Imps midfielder Antonio Calderon fired just over the bar.

Rodgers brought on James Forrest and Stuart Armstrong for Christie and Tom Rogic before Griffiths' shot from 10 yards was deflected onto the bar. As Celtic's desperation grew, Armstrong blasted over to groans from the increasingly worried Hoops supporters.

In the 72nd minute, Nadir Ciftci replaced Dembele in what was Rodgers' last throw of the dice, as scorer Casciaro came off to a hero's reception to be replaced by George Cabrera.

Five minutes later, after Griffiths was fouled by Imps defender Joe Chipolina 25 yards from goal, the former Wolves striker cracked the bar with the free-kick, with Nir Bitton beaten to the rebound.

As Celtic stepped up the pressure in the final 10 minutes, Navas saved from Ciftci, who subsequently missed the target with a header before the final whistle, after four added minutes, confirmed the Hoops' embarrassment as the Imps players and supporters celebrated with justifiable pride.

Belfast Telegraph

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