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Proud Rodgers warns Celtic's Europa League job isn't finished yet after McGregor sinks Zenit

Celtic 1 Zenit St Petersburg 0

Top Bhoy: Callum McGregor celebrates his winner
Top Bhoy: Callum McGregor celebrates his winner

By Ronnie Esplin

Callum McGregor's stunning late strike helped Celtic to a deserved 1-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg that gave the Hoops control of their Europa League tie.

The Scottish champions dominated the last-32 encounter with a Russian side who looked every bit like a team who had not played a competitive game for over two months due to their winter break.

Roberto Mancini's expensively assembled team found themselves under the cosh for long spells. It looked like they would hold out but, in the 78th minute, McGregor fired high past Zenit goalkeeper Andrei Lunev.

And although the Russians are sure to be a different prospect in front of their own fans, and with 90 minutes under their belts, Brendan Rodgers' men have the all-important goal advantage.

The Ulsterman said: "I thought it was a brilliant performance from start to finish, a very mature performance.

"They've shown the personality and development of the team by keeping a clean sheet. I'm very proud of the team, but we're only halfway there."

Rodgers, whose side dropped out of the Champions League after finishing behind Paris St Germain and Bayern Munich, added: "That level of opponent we have come up against the last couple of years, it tests you to the limit.

"It's very important you defend well in any game. Defensively we were very strong. We showed great calmness with the ball and everyone contributed."

In the seventh minute midfielder Olivier Ntcham fired wide from 12 yards after linking up with striker Moussa Dembele before playmaker McGregor drew a decent save from Lunev.

Zenit looked off the pace. However, they sprang into action in the 14th minute and, from captain Domenico Criscito's cross, Hoops keeper Dorus de Vries blocked Anton Zabolotny's close-range flick, with Kieran Tierney clearing off the line.

The home side were bossing possession and Zenit's defending grew desperate, though driven crosses from the impressive McGregor and Tierney found no takers in green and white.

Celtic came out for the second half determined to make their possession pay off.

The visitors were unable to get their passing game going as Celtic nipped at their heels.

In the 55th minute, James Forrest drove into the Zenit box but his drive from 14 yards was blocked by Emanuel Mammana.

As the pressure intensified, and Zenit dropped deeper, Lunev beat away a long-range effort by Eboue Kouassi.

The Russian side looked content to take the draw as the match entered the final 20 minutes, in which winger Charly Musonda took over from Kouassi to make his European debut.

And it was the on-loan winger from Chelsea who came up trumps 12 minutes from time when he played in McGregor, who took a touch before lashing the ball high past Lunev.

It was just reward for a fine performance.

Belfast Telegraph

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