Football: Functional Celtic on cruise control

Inter Cable-Tel 0 Celtic 3
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The Independent Online
The European season may have started last night, but Celtic did their best at Ninian Park to suggest that they agree with the belief that the only place to play football in July is on the beach.

Faced by the Welsh part-timers of Inter Cable-Tel, they rarely raised their game above paddling pace while doing enough to restore some of their confidence and effectively secure a place in the qualifying round of the Uefa Cup.

It satisfied their fans who made up the bulk of the crowd, but there was little to suggest they will take their run in the competition from midsummer to midwinter.

Inter's campaign will not go beyond Tuesday's return leg at Parkhead, but the players, some just making pounds 30 a week from their football talent will remember the tie for much longer. "I feared the worst beforehand," George Wood, the Inter manager, said. "Celtic have international stars while some of our team were pub players two years ago. We went through 20 toilet rolls in the dressing-room."

Wood, the former Everton and Scotland goalkeeper, was even more concerned after Inter went behind to a foolishly conceded penalty after five minutes, but he finished the night justifiably "so proud of them". The 44-year- old likened his team to "a good Dr Marten's League side".

The gulf between them and Celtic rarely appeared that large, even if it was 76 minutes before Gordon Marshall in the Celtic goal had to make a save.

Celtic had approached the tie cautiously. The high-profile absences of Paolo Di Canio and Jorge Cadete, the long search for a manager and the recent defeat to Derry City had left fans ill at ease. Defeat, although an unlikely prospect, was being actively discussed with the chairman of the supporters' club admitting: "The fans are worried about a major slip- up if Celtic don't perform."

The early goal erased such fears. Wayne Hewitt, having been left on his backside by Jackie McNamara, rashly attempted a second tackle and brought him down. Andreas Thom scored easily from the spot.

Celtic supporters now sat back and awaited the deluge. Instead they, and the new manager, Wim Jansen, were presented with a reprise of the Tommy Burns reign as Inter refused to crumble.

Celtic played attractive passing football using the full width of the pitch, but as often in recent years, failed to turn possession into chances.

So ineffectual were they that the next shot was from the Cardiff club's Brian Gibson after 21 minutes. The balding midfielder, manager of the local Spar grocery, volleyed well over from 30 yards.

Eight minutes later, Thom finally brought a save from Marty Ellacott. The full-time fireman and part-time goalkeeper reacted well to turn away his fierce 20-yard drive. That was followed by a slick one-two with Morten Wieghorst, only for Thom to finish by shooting into the side netting.

Inter by this stage had won a corner, but seconds before half-time they went two down, Tommy Johnson tapping in Tosh McKinlay's cross.

Still the part-timers maintained their discipline and they grew in confidence until Neil Davies finally brought Marshall into action with a snap shot.

By then Jansen had introduced Darren Jackson, their new signing from Hibernian. He soon brought a fine save from Ellacott with a close-range shot. From the corner, Wieghorst scored the third. "The result was important," Jansen said.

The only disappointment for Inter was the size of the crowd. Just under 7,000, it may have been 6,600 better than usual, but was 3,000 less than had been hoped for. Perhaps, like Celtic, the absentees also thought it was a bit too early for football.

Inter Cable-Tel (5-3-2) Ellacott; Williams, Philpott, David, Rickard, Hewitt; Gibson (Murray, 62), Wharton, Davies; Haig (Wile, 80), Burrows (Jenkins, 70).

Celtic (3-4-2-1) Marshall; Hannah, Boyd, Stubbs; McNamara, Wieghorst, Gray, McKinlay; Donnelly, Thom; Johnson (Jackson, 70).

Referee: A Ibanez (Sp).