Celtic 1-0 Zenit: Callum McGregor scores late winner as Celtic start Europa League campaign on a high
Last Updated: 16/02/18 8:51am
A wonderful late goal from Callum McGregor got Celtic’s Europa League campaign off to the perfect start with a 1-0 win over Zenit St Petersburg at Celtic Park.
Celtic were the better side from start to finish and went close to scoring through Olivier Ntcham early on, although Anton Zabolotny saw a good chance go begging for Zenit soon after.
All that was lacking for the hosts was the end product but Charly Musonda's introduction gave them a boost and the Chelsea loanee linked up with Moussa Dembele for McGregor's winner on 78 minutes.
For Brendan Rodgers, the performance as much as the result would have been a huge boost following Celtic's disappointing Champions League campaign and they will fancy their chances in St Petersburg next week.
Celtic Park was expectant before kick-off and early chances from Kieran Tierney and Ntcham inside the opening eight minutes almost gave the home fans the perfect start.
Celtic: De Vries (6), Lustig (6), Simunovic (6), Ajer (6), Tierney (8), Forrest (7), Brown (7), Kouassi (7), Ntcham (8), McGregor (8), Dembele (7)
Subs: Musonda (7), Edouard (N/A)
Zenit: Lunev (5), Smolnikov (5), Mammana (7), Mevlija (6), Criscito (6), Paredes (6), Kuzyaev (5), Yerokhin (6), Rigoni (6), Kokorin (6), Zabolotny (6)
Subs: Kranevitter (6), Driussi (5)
Man of the match: Kieran Tierney
Zenit almost broke the deadlock against the run of play soon afterwards but Celtic had Dorus De Vries and Tierney to thank as the Dutchman thwarted Zabalotny's shot before the left-back turned Daler Kuzyaev's header off the line.
That double chance marked a rare Zenit foray into Celtic's half and afterwards, normal service resumed when McGregor bobbled a shot over before he and then Tierney flashed inviting deliveries right across the six-yard-box with no-one able to get a decisive touch on the ball.
Rodgers might have expected a Zenit onslaught in the second half but that did not materialise as Celtic remained the dominant side with only an Emanuel Mammana block preventing James Forrest from opening the scoring after 55 minutes.
Brendan Rodgers was without a host of players through injury and elected to leave Scott Sinclair and Charly Musonda on the bench with Eboue Kouassi surprisingly handed a rare start.Roberto Mancini handed a debut to striker Anton Zabolotny while Branislav Ivanovic wasn't fit enough to start.
Eboue Kouassi, a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up, tested Andrey Lunev in goal with a fierce drive from distance moments later. Chances were at a premium after that, though, with the game descending into something of a scrap with 10 players - five on each side - being cautioned in the game.
Celtic needed a spark and Rodgers turned to Musonda to provide it on 75 minutes. Three minutes later, Celtic were in front as the Belgian played his way out of trouble in his own half, combined with Dembele down the left and then floated an inch-perfect pass to McGregor at the far post, who brought the ball down on his chest before rattling an unstoppable shot in off the bar.
It was a wonderful goal to cap an exceptional Celtic performance in what has been an otherwise difficult European campaign.
Man of the match - Kieran Tierney
McGregor sealed the win with a sensational half-volley while Ntcham also enjoyed an excellent evening, dominating a midfield containing the highly-rated Leandro Paredes.
However, Tierney once again shone from his marauding left-back role, charging up and down the flank all night long and causing the Zenit defence a number of problems throughout.
He almost scored himself after just two minutes and created two or three excellent chances as the game wore on. Another exceptional performance from the youngster to add to an ever-growing collection.
- Celtic have earned their first win in the Europa League in 12 games, having lost six and drawn five of their previous 11.
- In fact, this is Celtic's first win at the knockout stage of any European competition since they beat Barcelona 1-0 in March 2004, courtesy of a goal from Alan Thompson (excl. playoffs).
- Brendan Rodgers has earned a victory over a side managed by Roberto Mancini for the first time since March 2012, when his Swansea side beat Manchester City 1-0 in the Premier League.
- Zenit Saint Petersburg have suffered their first defeat in eight games in the Europa League, having won six and drawn one of their previous seven.
- Callum McGregor's 78th-minute winner was his second goal in European competition for Celtic this season - no player has scored more (excl. playoffs).
- Celtic have now won four games on the bounce against Russian opposition in European fixtures, having failed to win any of their previous three such games (D2 L1).
Celtic's next game is against St. Johnstone at home on Sunday before they switch their attentions to the crucial second leg against Zenit next Thursday.