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Celtic given a Euro fright

By Ronnie Esplin

Elfsborg 0 Celtic 0 (Celtic win 1-0 on aggregate): Neil Lennon admitted he was a nervous wreck watching his side sneak into the Champions League play-offs with a goalless draw against Elfsborg in Boras.

The draw for the play-off takes place tomorrow where the Parkhead club will take a step closer to the lucrative group stages of the competition from which they emerged last season to reach the last-16 of the competition.

But for now the Hoops are just relieved to still be in Europe's premier knockout competition after a goalless draw in Sweden securing a 1-0 aggregate win.

Former Northern Ireland international Lennon said: "It was a huge result. It is nerve wracking at this time. I was nervous all day.

"It was a tough night, we showed great character.

"It was a tough game and you have to give credit to Elfsborg, they gave it everything."

Celtic started the brighter and Georgios Samaras could have doubled their aggregate lead with an unmarked header in the 12th minute but Lennon was pleased just to see his side advance.

"I felt we should have had the tie wrapped up after 20 minutes," he added. "You would expect him (Samaras) to score or get it on target anyway and then their goalkeeper has made a fantastic save from Joe Ledley.

" We only needed the one goal to burst the enthusiasm of Elfsborg.

"We became a bit scrappy but with a bit more quality we might have picked them off near the end.

"My back four were wonderful and we restricted Elfsborg to minimal chances."

Lennon added: "We will wait to see what the draw brings. It is a step in the right direction.

"I am really pleased. It was a tough, tough night."

Lennon also admitted that Kelvin Wilson has probably played his last game for the Parkhead club.

Wilson is likely to be back at Nottingham Forest before tomorrow's draw.

The Lurgan man said: "I would say it was Kelvin's last game for us. I don't think it (the deal) is far away.

"I would say he would be away over the next couple of days. If it is then he could go away with his head held high, I thought he was fantastic tonight for us and he will be a huge miss.

"We chatted to him beforehand, he was in the right frame of mind and didn't want to let the team down and he certainly didn't, I thought he was awesome.

"We are going to work hard to get a few players in, the players are running on empty.

"These qualifiers are tough and we have two games to go before the group stages."

The Hoops travelled to Sweden for the second leg of their third qualifying round with a Kris Commons goal to defend, and while it was not a great display from Lennon's team they did enough to get through the tie. On the Swedish club's artificial surface, both teams had chances in an opening 45 minutes with Elfsborg's on-loan striker, Mo Bangura, missing a sitter against his parent club.

By comparison the second half was dour, and while the final stages were tense the Scottish champions remained solid to the end. The Scottish champions could have twice taken the lead and probably killed off the home side.

In the 12th minute Samaras spurned a great chance soon when Swedish right-back Mikael Lustig reached the byline before standing up a delightful cross for the unmarked Greek striker but he headed high over the bar from 10 yards.

In the 20th minute Celtic had another opportunity when Elfsborg defender Jon Jonsson clumsily handled the ball 25 yards from goal, preventing Samaras getting through.

Commons' driven free-kick broke off the defensive wall to Joe Ledley who shot straight at goalkeeper Kevin Stuhr-Ellegaard, albeit the Wales midfielder appeared to have his jersey tugged before he got his shot away.

In the 69th minute Stokes replaced the struggling Samaras before Bangura set up Henning Hauger to blaze over the bar.

Hoops midfielder Charlie Mulgrew picked up an injury and was replaced by Adam Matthews as Hauger made way for Simon Hedlund.

The Swedes became desperate but the Hoops defence restricted them to very few chances and saw the match out with a degree of comfort and indeed with more poise they might have made more of several counter-attacks.

Belfast Telegraph


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