Celtic go close in fight for salvation

Celtic 4 - Artmedia Bratislava 0 (Artmedia win 5-4 on aggregate)
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The Scottish side trailed 5-0 from the first leg in Slovakia but staged a storming comeback at Celtic Park, ignited by Alan Thompson in the 22 minute. John Hartson, the defender Stephen McManus and substitute Craig Beattie were the other scorers for the home side.

"I'm happy with them tonight and I was happy with the first half [against Motherwell] on Saturday," Strachan said.

He had talked before the match of needing to make serious changes to his side in the wake of the first leg last week when, in his first match in charge, Celtic suffered the worst night in their European history to lose 5-0. That was followed by a first domestic game in the Scottish Premier League that ended in a 4-4 draw at Motherwell.

The truth is that his options for serious change were limited and while there were four alterations from the outing at Fir Park on Saturday only one completely new face made the starting line-up and that was the Polish goalkeeper Artur Boruc who was given his Hoops debut for Strachan's own home competitive debut.

Otherwise Bobo Baldé was brought back to the defence to replace the injured Stan Varga. His compatriot Maciej Zurawski returned after injury in attack while Ross Wallace was brought in on the right of midfield in place of Aiden McGeady. Strachan, hoping against hope that he might be able mastermind the greatest comeback in European football, had also said that were his side to stand a chance last night that chance rested on being at least two goals ahead by half-time. They were.

The breakthrough came in the 21st minute of the match when Zurawski was bundled over in the box by Ondrej Debnar and the referee pointed to the spot. The referee's decision was met with jubilation of an almost capacity crowd who, despite fears of swathes of empty seats, had shown the faith to turn up and hope for a miracle. Thompson stepped up to the spot and slotted a calm opener into the right-hand side of the net, low past the keeper.

There had been previous chances, the first falling to Wallace who had shot over in the fifth minute. The visitors had also gone close although Juraj Halenar was denied by Boruc in the 17th minute. Strachan's target of a two-goal lead by the break was achieved on the cusp of half-time when Wallace bravely nodded on to John Hartson who finished with aplomb.

The third goal arrived eight minutes into the second half when Shaun Maloney with his first touch after being brought on as a substitute for Wallace fed the ball back across goal after a corner and McManus sent the home crowd berserk.

Half an hour later, after four good chances went close but not close enough, they were in ecstasy again when the second substitute of the evening Beattie, who replaced Zurawski, headed home a cross from Mo Camara. The full-back Camara had tenaciously won the ball in midfield and scampered forward giving the home supporters reason to believe that the players were as desperate for victory as they were.

Celtic (4-4-2): Boruc; Telfer, Baldé, McManus, Camara; Wallace (Maloney, 64), Petrov, Lennon, Thompson (Aliadière, 88); Zurawski (Beattie, 64), Hartson. Substitutes not used: Marshall, McGeady, O'Dea, Lawson.

Artmedia Bratislava (4-4-2): Cobej; Burak, Debnar, Durica, Tchur; Vascak (Mikulic, 74), Kozak, Borbely, Fodrek; Obzera, Halenár. Substitutes not used: Starno, Hellebrand, Kotula, Gomes, Mikulic, Bukvic, Kolljar.

Referee: A Undiano Mallenco (Spain).

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