James Forrest’s strike in stoppage time sent Celtic through to the group stage of the Champions League at Shakhtar Karagandy’s expense, prompting wild celebrations at Parkhead.
Two goals either side of half time had brought Celtic level on aggregate, having lost 2-0 in Kazakhstan.
The Celts faced an uphill struggle after the first leg, but with the prize of a place amongst Europe’s elite at stake (not to mention the Champions League’s financial rewards), Neil Lennon’s men showed unbelievable spirit to overcome the deficit with a 3-0 win at Celtic Park.
Forrest undoubtedly deserved a goal after a fantastic all-round performance with the Scotsman looking lively from start to finish.
It was Kris Commons, however, whose strike set the Bhoys on their way with a stunning strike just before the interval. The Glaswegians were the dominant side from the outset, but that didn’t translate into goals until Commons raised the roof with his shot from outside the box.
Celtic started the second half blisteringly, Georgios Samaras sealed the comeback just minutes after the restart. The ball fell kindly for the Greek, but required a cool finish nonetheless.
With the tie level, Shakhtar proved a difficult beast to kill, but with extra time looming, a relatively quiet Anthony Stokes looked to put Celtic through but was stopped only by the crossbar.
Shakhtar were blocked by the woodwork themselves just a few minutes later, but with the tie on a knife edge, neither side looked like getting a winner until the dying moments.
Scotland manager Gordon Strachan told The Telegraph that “concentration cost Celtic” in the first leg despite them being the better side, but there were to be no such mistakes on Wednesday night, with Adam Matthews clearing off the line as Shakhtar looked for an all important away goal.
Forrest was fortunate to stay on the pitch after suffering a heavy knock to his knee, but Lennon persisted with the winger and reaped the rewards.
Stokes produced some incredible footwork to set up the winner, racing through the Shakhtar defence before squaring to Forrest, who set off jubilant scenes both on the touchline and in the stands.
Quality prevailed, as did the harsh truth for the Kazakhs that Celtic are ultimately a Champions League team, while Karagandy are not.
Shakhtar had been hoping to become the first Kazakh team to reach the Champions League group stage, but Celtic were deserving winners. The Bhoys have work to do before the groups – and indeed before the end of the transfer window – but proved once again their ability to deliver on European nights.
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