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Cool Leigh Griffiths gives Celtic control of Euro destiny

FC Astana 1-1 Celtic

By Ronnie Esplin

Published 28/07/2016

Head Bhoy: Leigh Griffiths netted what could be a crucial away goal in the 1-1 draw with Astana in Kazakhstan
Head Bhoy: Leigh Griffiths netted what could be a crucial away goal in the 1-1 draw with Astana in Kazakhstan

Leigh Griffiths' 78th-minute strike gave Celtic a 1-1 draw against FC Astana and put the Hoops firmly in charge of their Champions League fate.

Defender Yuri Logvinenko headed the home side ahead from a corner in the 19th minute of the third qualifying round match at the noisy Astana Arena, which was just short of its 30,000-capacity.

The visitors' makeshift central defence containing European debutant Eoghan O'Connell and Efe Ambrose had to work hard with the rest of their Parkhead team-mates to prevent Astana adding to their lead.

Just when it looked like Celtic would be content with a narrow loss, Griffiths drilled in to stun the Kazakhstan champions who may rue not pressing home their advantage when they travel to Glasgow for the return game next week.

Brendan Rodgers had found himself with defensive problems ahead of the match on an artificial surface on which the home side looked more comfortable.

With five central defenders either injured or trying to catch up on fitness, the former Liverpool boss gambled by giving a European debut to 20-year-old O'Connell. The Irish defender was put alongside the often-criticised Ambrose with Mikael Lustig and Kieran Tierney either side as full-backs, although there was fluidity in the system.

A midfield of Patrick Roberts, Callum McGregor, Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong was given license to support strikers Griffiths and Moussa Dembele.

Amid a promising start for the Hoops, it was Griffiths who had an effort which trundled wide. By that time O'Connell had flattened Patrick Twumasi and then gave possession away 30 yards from goal but at no cost.

But there was a heavy price to be paid when Ambrose allowed a cross from Twumasi to go through his legs with Lustig having to concede a corner and when Twumasi's set-piece came in, Logvinenko got in front of keeper Craig Gordon to head in with O'Connell also culpable.

After Dembele went down in the Astana box under pressure by Igor Shitov - their penalty claims were ignored by Italian referee Paolo Mazzoleni - the Hoops' goal had to survive a couple of more dangerous corners.

Every high ball into the Parkhead side's penalty area had the small band of travelling fans nervy, not helped early in the second-half when Gordon made hard work of holding on to a long drive from Twumasi. Celtic were wobbling.

In the 52nd minute Azat Nurgaliyev clipped the bar with a drive after Abzal Beysebekov had got past Tierney all too easily. But with 12 minutes to go, Roberts won the ball back from Dmitri Shomko and set up Griffiths for what could be a crucial goal.

In a frantic finale, Gordon saved from Junior Kabananga to preserve a draw for the Hoops.

Astana: Eric, Shitov, Logvinenko, Anicic, Shomko, Maksimovic, Canas, Beisebekov (Ibraimi 85), Nurgaliev (Muzhikov 61), Twumasi, Kabananga (Despotovic 87). Subs not used: Mokin, Tagybergen, Najarian, Maliy.

Goals: Logvinenko (19)

Celtic: Gordon, Lustig, Ambrose, O'Connell, Tierney, Roberts, McGregor (Rogic 77), Brown, Armstrong (Forrest 72), Dembele (Bitton 62), Griffiths. Subs not used: Fasan, Izaguirre, Ciftci, Janko.

Goals: Griffiths (78)

Referee: Paolo Mazzoleni (Bergamo)

Belfast Telegraph

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