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Celtic 2-1 FC Astana: Hoops reach Champions League play-off round

By Ronnie Esplin

Celtic have reached the Champions League play-off round after beating Astana 2-1 at Parkhead to secure a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Moussa Dembele's first Celtic goal gave the Hoops a dramatic last-gasp 2-1 win over Astana and booked them a place in the Champions League play-off.

The third qualifying tie had swung towards Brendan Rodgers' side after the 1-1 draw in Kazakhstan and striker Leigh Griffiths, who levelled in the Astana Arena, scored from the spot on the stroke of half-time before substitute Agim Ibraimi levelled with an opportunist long-range effort.

However, in stoppage time, French forward Dembele, on for James Forrest, slammed in a penalty after he had been tripped by Igor Shitov, who was sent packing by Romanian referee Istvan Kovacs for a second booking, with Dmitri Shomko following him amid the mayhem.

It was a crazy end to the match but the Scottish Champions go into Friday's play-off draw looking for a favourable tie which will see them into the competition proper for the first time in three seasons.

Rodgers had some selection dilemmas and although there was little surprise that much-criticised Efe Ambrose was dropped from central defence, the Nigeria international was not even on the bench.

Right-back Saidy Janko came into the team with Mikael Lustig moving inside to partner 20-year-old Irishman Eoghan O'Connell.

Defender Kolo Toure started on the bench and the 35-year-old's fellow new signing Dembele was also dropped from attack for James Forrest with Griffiths leading the line.

The visitors were soon on the back foot. However, the minutes ebbed with visiting keeper Nenad Eric seeing little action although a 20-yard snap-shot from Griffiths midway through the first-half cleared the far post but not by much.

Celtic suffered a blow on the half-hour mark when winger Patrick Roberts went off after picking up an injury to be replaced by midfielder Stefan Johansen with Forrest moving to the right and Armstrong switching to the left.

Three minutes from the break the former Dundee United midfielder found a yard of space in the Astana box but his drive from 12 yards was smothered by Eric, before defender Yuri Logvinenko blocked a goal-bound Griffiths effort.

However, with the last kick of the first-half amid some drama, the home side got the breakthrough.

When defender Abzal Beysebekov clumsily fouled Tierney inside the box as they challenged for a bouncing ball, Romanian referee Kovacs pointed to the spot.

After a delay, Griffiths took great delight in smashing the spot-kick past Eric, who dived the wrong way.

The goal lifted the home crowd and they went for number two from the restart.

Only a perfectly-timed tackle from Shitov foiled the hosts but slowly the Kazakh club began throwing players forward in search of an equaliser.

Roger Canas had the ball in the net in the 56th minute but the assistant's flag was up to the relief of the Hoops fans but there was despair around the corner.

On the hour mark Toure replaced Armstrong to make his debut but moments later it was all square.

Gordon raced outside his box to head clear a through ball and although it went a decent distance, Ibraimi, on for Azat Nurgaliyev controlled the ball and quickly sent it soaring into the empty net.

The game stretched further. Dembele replaced Forrest after Junior Kabananga had flashed a shot wide of Gordon's right-hand post.

Shitov, booked in the first half, was lucky to escape punishment after a foul on Griffiths but he got his just reward for a trip on Dembele who became the Parkhead hero by despatching the crucial penalty.

Match preview

Kazakhstan club aiming to be positive against Hoops

Manager Stanimir Stoilov insists FC Astana will not repeat the defensive folly of fellow Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy at Celtic Park on Wednesday night.

The Bulgarian's team go into the second leg of their Champions League third qualifier with the tie edging towards Celtic after at 1-1 draw last week.

Three seasons ago Shakhter Karagandy carved out an encouraging 2-0 first-leg lead against Celtic in the Champions League play-off but buckled in the return game in Glasgow, losing 3-0 with the last goal coming from James Forrest in stoppage time.

Before his squad trained at Celtic Park, Stoilov, speaking through an interpreter, claimed his men would be more positive.

He said: "I was in Bulgaria when Karagandy played in this arena.

"I thought the negative result was due to the poor performance they showed in the game and I will do my best to avoid these mistakes tomorrow in order to avoid this result.

"The main fault of Karagandy is that they were defensive for 90 minutes but we will try to defend and attack during the game.

"We understand that it will be a hard game. It's important and we need to show beautiful football to get a result."

The Kazakhstan champions arrived in Glasgow still irked by the clash between Hoops' goal scorer Leigh Griffiths and defender Igor Shitov in the Astana Arena which earned the Parkhead striker a yellow card.

Shitov was quoted as saying: "Griffiths hit me and what happened should have been a red card. He should be suspended for this match."

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Celtic v FC Astana: Toure can give crucial edge, says Brendan Rodgers  

"Me and the team watched that episode from the game after the match and this type of behaviour is unacceptable during the game," said Stoilov, who revealed Serbia midfielder Nemanja Maksimovic missed the trip through illness,

"At the same time the referee is in charge of the game and he is the only one to make the decisions.

"But this type of behaviour should not be repeated because it serves as a bad example."

The five-hour time difference means the match will kick-off at 12.45am Kazakhstan time.

However, Stoilov, whose side made the group stages of the competition last season where they met Benfica, Atletico Madrid and Galatasaray, refused to make excuses in advance.

"Tiredness due to travelling and time difference and such other factors can't be some sort of excuses for the team or for me," he said.

"In order to maintain the positive atmosphere in the squad, I don't want to discuss such issues with my players."

Kolo could make debut

Brendan Rodgers insists keeping a clear head amid the "hysteria" which can surround Champions League qualifiers is key to achieving that goal.

"To qualify into the Champions League is a goal that we set at the start of the season but you have to stay calm," said the former Watford, Reading and Swansea manager.

"We have to stay calm. There will be a lot of hysteria around but as manager and coaches and players you have to have that calmness to allow you to fulfil the abilities that you have.

"We have put in a lot of work and what gives us the confidence is that we are working relentlessly with the team, analysing the opponents.

"We are on the training field as long as we possibly can, we are speaking to players, we are reviewing games, training situations and that hard work gives us confidence that the players can be prepared as best they possibly could.

"So that is how we are approaching it, we understand the magnitude of it."

After a "resilient" performance in Astana last week where the Hoops fought back from a goal down to level through striker Leigh Griffiths, the Celtic manager is looking for his side to finish the job off in front of what promises to be a big crowd.

"We are really looking forward to playing at home," he said.

"I have sensed in the few games that we have had there that the crowd have been brilliant for us and the players have responded to that and likewise, hopefully tomorrow night we show another side to our game.

"We showed a real doggedness last week to keep going and maybe by the end of the game we were unfortunate not to have won it.

"But tomorrow night we aim to show that it is our pitch, we have to own the pitch and we need to get the result and that will be the idea for this home game and all of our home games this season.

Kolo Toure could make his Celtic debut against Astana but manager Brendan Rodgers remains short of central defender.

Erik Sviatchenko (groin), Dedryck Boyata (hamstring) and Jozo Simunovic (knee) are still on the sidelines.

Nir Bitton is set to miss out with an ankle injury but fellow midfielders Stefan Johansen and Kristoffer Ajer are fit again. Gary Mackay-Steven is still working his way back from ankle surgery while Kris Commons is working on his fitness.

Provisional squad: Gordon, Lustig, Tierney, Janko, Toure, O'Connell, Ambrose, Johansen, Ajer, Brown, Armstrong, Roberts, Forrest, Griffiths, Dembele, Ciftci, Izaguirre, Christie, Rogic, McGregor, Fasan.

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