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Brilliant Bhoys wrap up top spot in style

Celtic 3 Rennes 1

Ryan Christie celebrates getting on the scoresheet

By Ronnie Esplin

Celtic clinched top spot in their Europa League section with a solid 3-1 win over Rennes at Parkhead.

The Hoops had already qualified for the last-32 of the competition before the game but boss Neil Lennon had stressed the importance of winning a group for the first time to ensure the possibility of a more favourable draw.

Makeshift centre forward Lewis Morgan, in for the absent Odsonne Edouard, fired the home side ahead in the 22nd minute with Ryan Christie doubling that lead just before the interval.

Second-half substitute Mikey Johnston, on for James Forrest for his first appearance since September after recovering from injury, drove in a third in the 74th minute before Rennes substitute Adrien Hunou headed in a late consolation for the visitors.

Lennon's side moved on to 13 points - the first time they have broken the 10-point barrier - and with Cluj losing 1-0 to Lazio in Rome, the Hoops' pole position is guaranteed before they travel to Romania next month for the final Group E fixture.

While Morgan took over from Edouard who was given the night off, left-back Greg Taylor, right-back Moritz Bauer and midfielder Olivier Ntcham also came into the side against a Rennes side who arrived in Glasgow without hope of qualifying and with only one point.

Amid a tepid start to the match Romain Del Castillo tested Celtic keeper Fraser Forster with a shot from distance in the sixth minute, before Ntcham did the same at the other end, his long-range effort pushed wide by Edouard Mendy.

However, the Rennes keeper had no chance when James Forrest's pass was pounced on by Scotland colleague Morgan, usually a winger, who swiped the ball past him at the near post.

The Scottish champions were up and running and another powerful, low drive from Ntcham required a good save from Mendy.

In the 41st minute Morgan got on the end of a terrific cross from the right by Bauer but his header was straight at the Rennes keeper who looked unconvincing when was beaten again seconds before the interval when Christie drifted inside from the right and fired in a left-footed drive from outside box.

Celtic had a let off in the 57th minute thanks to the remarkable reflexes of Forster who made a double save from point-blank range, first from Rafik Guitane and then Theoson Siebatcheu with the ball clipping the post after coming off his knee.

There was a penalty claim when Morgan was tackled from behind by Mendy but referee Espen Eskas waved play.

Johnston, who took over from Forrest in 63 minutes, grabbed a third seven minutes later when he played a one-two with Ntcham before rifling an angled drive into the far corner of the net.

Hunou, on for Del Castillo, headed a cross from Maouassa past Forster in the 88th minute but it should not dent the confidence of the Hoops who can prepare for Romania with no pressure, a rare position for any Scottish club to enjoy.

CELTIC: Forster, Bauer, Ajer, Jullien, Taylor, McGregor, Brown (Bitton 76), Forrest (Johnston 67), Christie (Griffiths 79), Morgan, Ntcham. Subs not used: Gordon, Sinclair, Rogic, Robertson.

Rennes: Mendy, Boey, Nyamsi, Gnagnon, Maouassa, Bourigeaud, Guitane (Da Cunha 65), Lea Siliki, Tait (Gboho 80), Del Castillo (Hunou 74), Siebatcheu. Subs not used: Salin, Da Silva, Doumbia, Gelin.

Referee: Espen Eskas (Norway)

Match rating: 7/10

Man of the match: Christie

Belfast Telegraph


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