Celtic’s Champions League prospects became a whole lot brighter after Dedryck Boyata’s late header gave them a narrow victory over Qarabag.
The home side put in an insipid, error-strewn first-half performance in the first leg of the third qualifier to give the Azerbaijan champions plenty of encouragement.
Ronny Deila’s team improved after the break but, aside from a great save by Qarabag keeper Ibrahim Sehic from a Virgil van Dijk header, they posed little threat until the 82nd minute when the former Manchester City defender, recruited in the summer, headed in a corner from substitute Kris Commons.
The Scottish champions have a goal to defend in the return game in Baku next Wednesday night – and they will be grateful for it – although on the evidence of the first leg the tie is far from over.
Sehic made a fantastic save from a powerful Van Dijk header, from a Stefan Johansen free-kick, on the hour mark before the Dutchman arrowed a long-range drive just over the bar.
Commons came on for Nadir Ciftci – who again started instead of last season’s top scorer top scorer Leigh Griffiths – with 10 minutes remaining and, when he whipped in a corner from the right, Boyata, who had scored in the previous round at home to Stjarnan, rose high to bullet his header past Sehic, with the keeper claiming he had been fouled.