Roiha makes life hard for Celtic

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The Independent Football

HJK Helsinki 2 Celtic 0 Score at 90 minutes; agg: 2-2

HJK Helsinki 2 Celtic 0 Score at 90 minutes; agg: 2-2

IF HE was not already aware of them, Martin O'Neill received an unwelcome crash course in the harsh differences between life in the Scottish Premier League and European competition here yesterday afternoon as Celtic, winners of 12 games in a row since the start of the season, were taken into extra-time in their Uefa Cup first round, second leg tie by the part-timers of HJK Helsinki.

Two goals by the HJK striker Paulus Roiha, the first shortly before the interval and the second, after a mistake by the Celtic goalkeeper Jonathan Gould in the 75th minute, wiped out a 2-0 deficit from the first leg at Parkhead a fortnight ago and, as the game headed for extra time and the prospect of penalties, the SPL leaders could only reflect on several squandered first-half opportunities to put the tie beyond doubt.

With their first-leg advantage and a supposedly clear gulf in quality, O'Neill's side had arrived in Finland as favourites to progress to the second round. The Celtic manager was forced to make one change to his side, with Bobby Petta coming in for the ineligible Alan Thompson. He also decided to rest Lubo Moravcik, who made way for the unsettled midfielder Eyal Berkovic.

The biggest immediate concern facing the Israeli international and his team-mates, however, was the appaling state of the pitch here - a shambolic combination of bare patches and strips of astroturf - which had prompted Celtic to make their concerns known to Uefa two weeks earlier.

Any complacency Celtic may have taken into the game was diffused in the fourth minute. Helsinki's Peter Kopteff took Toni Kallio's clever flick in his stride down the left flank and hit a cross that bounced off the crossbar with Gould stranded.

Moments later, though, Celtic should have scored themselves when Jackie McNamara's punt downfield had Markus Heikkinen in big trouble and Henrik Larsson dispossessed him before lobbing the ball just over the bar.

But the visitors gradually began to assume control of the midfield and Chris Sutton almost connected with Berkovic's cross, which was desperately cleared for a corner by Toni Kuivasto. From the resulting corner Johan Mjallby should have put the tie out of the home side's reach when he rose unmarked in the box but headed Petta's cross past the upright.

Chances continued to fall Celtic's way. First the referee waved away their protests for a penalty in the 20th minute when Stilian Petrov was brought down in the area by the HJK goalkeeper, Jani Viander. Moments later Petrov ran on to Paul Lambert's through-ball but saw his strike come back off the upright, and Larsson curled the rebound past the post.

Celtic's problems began in the 35th minute when their captain, Tommy Boyd, was carried off on a stretcher and replaced by Vidar Riseth. It proved to be a disastrous loss as HJK pulled a goal back before Celtic could regroup. Alexei Jeremenko split the defence with a delightful pass and Roiha coolly slid the ball past the onrushing Gould.

Helsinki came out after the break full of confidence. Roiha shot narrowly wide in the 49th minute and the visitors were relieved to see Saarinen's long-range shot sail over Gould's crossbar soon after.

At the other end Viander saved well from a Lambert free-kick but HJK gained the reward their enterprising play deserved 15 minutes from normal time when Gould spilled the ball into the path of Roiha and he side-footed home off the post for his second goal of the night.

HJK Helsinki: Viander, Turpeinen, Nylund, Jeremenko, Kallio, Roiha, Saarinen, Heikkinen, Hakanpää, Kuivasto, Kopteff. Substitutes: Wallén, Saastamoinen, Moraes, Kunnas, Haarala, Kokkonen, Yla-Jussila.

Celtic: Gould; Boyd, McNamara, Valgaeren, Larsson, Sutton, Berkovic, Lambert, Petta, Petrov, Mjallby. Substitutes: Kerr, Tébily, Agathé, Healy, Moravcik, Riseth, Smith.

Referee: L Gadosi (Slovakia).