Celtic 3-0 Suduva (Aggregate 4-1): Leigh Griffiths scores 100th Bhoys goal
Griffiths, Callum McGregor and Kris Ajer on target for Celtic
By Charles Paterson
Last Updated: 31/08/18 6:13am
Leigh Griffiths' 100th Celtic goal sent Brendan Rodgers' team on their way to the Europa League group stages, as they overcame Suduva 4-1 on aggregate.
Griffiths swept home a sumptuous trademark free-kick inside half an hour to calm nerves at Celtic Park, and put himself in pole position to start up front in Sunday's Old Firm game - which is live on Sky Sports - with a lively all-round display.
Callum McGregor and Kris Ajer added second-half goals, and Celtic were untroubled as they joined Rangers in the group stages, three days before the sides meet in Glasgow's east end.
It's been a difficult few weeks for Brendan Rodgers, but he will now hope the comfort of regular European football until at least Christmas can kick-start Celtic's season.
After a 1-1 first leg draw in Lithuania, Celtic were heavy favourites to progress - yet all the talk before the game was of transfer activity. Brendan Rodgers confirmed pre-match that Celtic had rejected a "significant offer" - believed to be from Lyon - for Moussa Dembele, and there was no place in the matchday squad for the French striker.
Midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu was also watching from the stands, after passing a medical ahead of his arrival on a free transfer, as Celtic looked to add to the squad with just one day left before the Scottish transfer deadline.
Griffiths started up front - hours after appearing at Dundee Sheriff Court on charges of speeding - with Odsonne Edouard absent as he continued his recovery from injury. Dedryck Boyata made his first European appearance of the season, while Michael Johnston and Scott Sinclair both returned on the wings.
Celtic needed a morale-boosting performance after Sunday's sluggish win over Hamilton, but initially a spark was lacking, as they struggled to break down Suduva's five-man defence. It took almost 20 minutes to create a clear-cut opening, but Griffiths fired straight at Ivan Kardum after turning near the penalty spot. Shortly afterwards he found space again, but on his weaker right foot again couldn't truly test the goalkeeper.
On 27 minutes, the Scotland striker finally found his range as he brought up his century for the club, with a sublime free-kick from 25 yards into Kardum's bottom left corner. A sprint of almost half the length of the pitch to celebrate with his manager followed, as he became the first Celtic player to score 100 goals since John Hartson.
Celtic should have made it 2-0 soon afterwards. Johnston's cross from the right found its way to Sinclair, but he took a touch before firing a volley into the ground, and it was beaten away by Pardum. Callum McGregor then had an opportunity from a tight angle, but fired across goal and wide.
On Sunday Boyata had been booed by his own supporters on his return to the team, after a fortnight-long dispute with the club. Having scored the winner against Hamilton, he now proved his worth at the other end of the pitch with two crucial interceptions, to keep Celtic's advantage intact going into half-time.
Celtic's pressure continued in the second half, as first Olivier Ntcham and then Sinclair fired over from long range. But Sinclair then turned provider, cutting inside and feeding McGregor, who had the time to drive low and left-footed into the corner to give Celtic breathing room.
Griffiths was a constant source of menace to Suduva, and could have had a hat-trick at least. Yet it was his dead-ball prowess, once again, that provided the third goal, curling a free-kick into the back post which Ajer climbed highest to meet. Kardum got his angles all wrong as the ball floated into the far corner.
Suduva never threatened any sort of comeback, and Celtic could have added many more. Substitute Jonny Hayes had the ball in the net on 80 minutes but the assistant referee flagged for offside, while Johnston and Ryan Christie both went close. Regardless of how many, the night's most significant development was the return of a feel-good factor to Celtic Park, ahead of a monumental clash on Sunday.