Callum McGregor’s second-half winner put Celtic in pole position to reach the Europa League last 16 as they claimed a 1-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg at Parkhead.
The Hoops dominated Roberto Mancini’s Russian outfit from the off but looked set to be frustrated as a string of first-half chances were allowed to go by.
But Brendan Rodgers’ side grabbed a precious lead to take into next week’s second leg when McGregor slammed home from substitute Charly Musonda’s lofted cross with 12 minutes left.
Tweet of the match
Star man – Olivier Ntcham
There were plenty of candidates for the man-of-the-match award with goalscorer McGregor and wideman James Forrest putting in strong displays but the pick of the bunch was Frenchman Ntcham, with his measured passing matched by his energy in midfield as he set the tone for a much-improved Celtic display against European opposition.
Zenit came into the match as the Europa League’s leading scorers having struck 17 times during their canter through the group stages. Celtic, on the other hand, were dropping down from the Champions League having shipped 18 times in just six games. But the Hoops managed to tighten up considerably and blunt Zenit’s attacking threat as McGregor’s goal gave them the edge ahead of next Thursday’s return in St Petersburg.
The kids are alright for Rodgers
With injuries ruling out Stuart Armstrong and Dedryck Boyata, Tom Rogic only ruled fit enough for the bench and new signing Marvin Compper cup-tied, Celtic boss Rodgers had to put his faith in 19-year-old defender Kristoffer Ajer and midfielder Eboue Kaouassi, 20. It was the biggest test of either player’s young career but neither let their manager down with mature displays against Mancini’s big-spending side. The introduction of teenager Musonda with just over quarter of an hour then swung the game in Celtic’s favour as he crossed for McGregor’s winner.
Celtic: De Vries 6, Lustig 6, Ajer 7, Simunovic 6, Tierney 7, Brown 7, Ntcham 8, Forrest 7, McGregor 8, Kouassi 7, Dembele 6. Subs: Musonda (for Kouassi, 73) 7, Edouard (for Dembele, 83) 5.
Zenit: Lunev 6, Mevlja 6, Mammana 6, Criscito 6, Smolnikov 7, Erokhin 6, Kuzyaev 6, Paredes 6, Rigoni 6, Kokorin 7, Zabolotny 7. Subs: Kranevitter (for Kuzyaev, 62) 6, Driussi (for Rigoni, 62) 5.
Who’s up next?
Celtic v St Johnstone (Ladbrokes Premiership, February 18)
Zenit v Celtic (Europa League, February 22)