McGeady strikes as Celtic bow out on a high

Celtic 2 Villarreal 0
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The Independent Football

Celtic ended a disappointing Champions League campaign in upbeat style with an encouraging victory over 10-man Villarreal at Parkhead. First-half goals from Shaun Maloney and Aiden McGeady – either side of the red card shown to Guillermo Franco for raising his hand to Hoops defender Gary Caldwell – gave the home side a deserved interval lead, which they held with ease all the way to the final whistle.

Denied even the possibility of Uefa Cup football before the game began, Celtic Park was stripped of the usual excitement associated with Champions League nights. Gordon Strachan's men nonetheless produced a fine display to earn their first win in Group E – although the fact that the Spanish club had already qualified for the last 16, and played most of the match a man down, has to be factored in to any analysis.

Strachan looked back with more than an element of regret on this year's European run but remains positive about the future for the Scottish champions. He said: "We had a penalty at home against Aalborg and [if we score] we win the game and that's three points. We did enough in Aalborg to win the game. We had a smashing performance against Villarreal away and we were six minutes away from beating against Manchester United here. If you look at that then you can count up a few points that went missing. But the longer we stay as a group the better it is for everybody. If we stay together and don't have to sell anybody, then that will be smashing."

Only the churlish would deny Celtic some credit from last night. A decent home crowd turned up for their last taste of European football this season, and with neither side under any real pressure, there lay ahead the possibility of an open and exciting game. That is exactly what the first half produced.

In the 14th minute Celtic took the lead after Shunsuke Nakamura sent Mark Wilson towards the byline. When the defender's cross had the sting taken out of it by Viera, Maloney had the easiest of tasks to head into an empty net.

The goal stung the Spaniards, and the Scottish champions had to survive a few minutes of intense pressure. But in the 21st minute, Celtic might have made it 2-0 when Maloney's wonderfully-crafted cross from the right just evaded Georgios Samaras.

In the 35th minute, with the game still in the balance, Villarreal were reduced to 10 men in bizarre circumstances when the linesman flagged to inform referee Claudio Circhetta that Franco had apparently struck Caldwell. The decision seemed harsh on the evidence of television. The incident was missed by most inside Parkhead – but after protests by the visitors, which earned Edmilson a booking, the Mexican striker had to troop off.

In the first minute of injury time, McGeady picked the ball up just over the halfway line and drove towards the Villarreal goal. From the edge of the box, he drilled a left-footed shot past Viera and into the corner of the net – as easy as you like.

After the break, Villarreal made an unconvincing attempt to get back in to the game. In the 56th minute, substitute Nihat Kahveci volleyed an Ariel Ibagaza corner in to the side-netting to cause a few flutters among the Celtic fans. The same supporters, buoyed by the way their side were playing, let under-fire goalkeeper Artur Boruc know they had forgiven him for his costly blunder in the defeat at Hibernian. The Poland international responded with a wave.

Celtic: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson (O'Dea, 81), Nakamura, S Brown, Hartley, McGeady (McGowan, 75), Maloney, Samaras (McDonald, 81). Substitutes not used: M Brown, Loovens, Mizuno, Caddis.

Villarreal: Viera, Angel, Fuentes, Rodriguez, Bruno, Cani, Senna (Nihat, h-t), Edmilson, Fernandez, Franco, Ibagaza (Santi Cazorla, 60). Substitutes not used: Diego Lopez, Eguren, Pires, Cygan.

Referee: C Circhetta (Swit).