Nomme Kalju FC v Celtic
UEFA Champions League
30th July 2019
Kick Off 18:00
UEFA Champions League
Second Qualifying Round, First Leg
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
Celtic Park, Glasgow
(Ajer 37, Christie 44, 65, Griffiths 45+3, McGregor 77)
LEIGH Griffiths marked his first competitive start of the season with a wonder goal as Celtic swept aside Nomme Kalju 5-0 in the first-leg of their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round encounter.
A brace from Ryan Christie and strikes from Kris Ajer and Callum McGregor rounded off the Hoops’ five-star display ahead of their trip to Estonia for next week’s second leg.
Neil Lennon made just one change to the team that overcame FK Sarajevo 5-2 on aggregate last week, with Griffiths entering the starting XI alongside striking partner Odsonne Edouard.
Celtic controlled the game from the outset, pushing the visitors deep into their own half from kick-off. With five across the middle, the Scottish champions enjoyed a spell of concerted possession in the opening stages, with Boli Bolingoli and James Forrest playing narrow from either flank.
On five minutes, Forrest and Christie paired well to win the home side a corner. Griffiths soaked up the applause from the Paradise faithful, before swinging a lethal ball towards the back post which Jozo Simunovic sent wide.
Four minutes on, Christie collected the ball in central midfield, drove at the Nomme Kalju defence and unleashed a right-foot that forced a strong hand from Pavel Londak between the sticks as the ball moved in the air.
The Hoops continued to dominate, and on 17 minutes carved their next clear-cut chance when Odsonne Edouard collected a neat through pass from Christie to the left of the opposition goal. The Frenchman bore down on goal, but had his shot blocked by the last defender.
On 20 minutes, Christie and Forrest combined down the right but Griffiths failed to connect with the latter’s low cross. One minute later, Griffiths sent a powerful free-kick through the wall, Scott Brown pounced on the loose ball to fire downward and forced a fine save from Londak.
The home side continued to push for an opener, and a flurry of half chances fell to Christie, Edoaurd and McGregor ahead of the half-hour mark. Nomme Kalju, to their credit, sought to catch Neil Lennon’s side on the counter-attack, but were comfortably matched by the block of Kris Ajer, Jozo Simunovic and Nir Bitton in the rare moments they broke rank from the back.
On 37 minutes, Celtic got the goal they deserved when Ajer headed home from a Christie set-piece. Having won a free-kick on the inside-left channel moments before, the latter’s free-kick was matched by the towering Norwegian’s head and set into the net off the underside of crossbar.
One minute from the break and the Hoops doubled their lead when Christie won a penalty for handball. The 24-year-old stepped up and fired home low into the right-hand corner of the net, sending Londak the wrong way in the process.
Moments after the restart and Griffiths almost made it three, when he latched on to a neat through-ball from Forrest, denied by the Kalju stopper. Moments after that, and Griffiths sent a wonderful left-foot free-kick into the net from 20 yards, up and over the wall to the right of goal, and Paradise duly erupted.
The Scottish champions entered the break with a commanding lead, and returned with similar drive. On 47 minutes, the lively Mikey Johnston, on for Boli Bolingoli towards the end of the first period, linked up with Edouard at the edge of the visitors’ area, shifted inside to his right and dragged a shot across Londak.
A strong hand forced the 20-year-old’s effort out for a corner, and from the resulting set-piece, Forrest drove from range again, forcing a strong block from the Kalju keeper.
On 53 minutes, Johnston and Edouard again combined on the inside-left channel, with the Frenchman this time receiving from his counterpart.
Goals above HH
Like Johnston, the forward danced past his man, cut inside and zipped a shot low and wide of the mark.From there, the Hoops carved a string of chances via Christie, McGregor and Edouard, before Christie made it 4-0 on the 65th minute.
Typically fearless, the 24-year-old kept a Hoops attack alive by throwing himself into a 50-50 challenge on the right side of the box, substitute Lewis Morgan saw his resultant cross blocked, and Christie recycled the loose ball by curling it over the on-form Kalju stopper and into the net.
With just under 15 minutes of normal time remaining, McGregor got in on the act to score Celtic’s fifth. On for Christie, Olivier Ntcham burst forward on the break and, with Edouard to his right, slipped in McGregor to his right.
The 26-year-old midfielder steadied himself with a touch, and bagged a signature goal, low across the goalkeeper and into the net.
The Hoops saw out the remainder of the match on the front foot, and now travel to Estonia with a comfortable and well-deserved aggregate lead.
CELTIC: Bain; Simunovic, Bitton, Ajer; Brown, Forrest, Christie (Nthcam 70), McGregor, Bolingoli (Christie 38); Griffiths (Morgan 59), Edouard
Subs not used: Gordon, Jullien, Sinclair, Hayes, Morgan, Johnston
NOMME KALJU: Londak, Kulinits, Avilov, Ugge, Mbu Alidor, Liliu, Subbotin, Klein (Mata 46), Markovych, Puri (Masitsev 85), Paur (Volkov 75)
Subs not used: Teles, Reintham, Tjapkin