Home » Champ League, Latest » CL Match Report: Celtic 2 Ajax Amsterdam 1

Celtic clawed their way back into contention in Group H with a rambunctious victory over Ajax – which, though marred by the dismissal of Nir Biton – that puts them two points clear of Frank de Boer’s side, ahead of the return fixture in Amsterdam in two weeks, and two points behind AC Milan who visit Parkhead next month.

The group stage goal that head eluded Neil Lennon’s players against Milan and Barcelona was scored – after a pronounced test of nerve – by James Forrest from the penalty spot just before the interval. The second, from Beram Kayal, found its mark by way of a deflection off Stefano Denswil shortly after the break.

The proceedings were not by any means one-sided. There were times when Celtic lived dangerous and but for a rebound from the post and a point-blank save by Fraser Forster, the Scottish title holders might have been left with nothing to show from three games in their section.

However, the element of luck which was denied them in the opening game in the San Siro when an Anthony Stokes free-kick ricocheted from the crossbar, operated in their favour on this occasion, with the consequence that a second successive appearance in the last 16 of the Champions League is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

Yet again, though, a Celtic player was shown the red card for a needless how of the boot, in this case Biton, for a shocking studs-up lunge at Thulani Serero although, fortunately for his colleagues, they had to hold out with depleted numbers for only five minutes, during which time Lasse Schone scored to shred the home crowd’s nerves.

Lennon made three changes, two of them enforced, to the side that drew 1-1 with Hibernian at Easter Road on Saturday. Scott Brown, serving the first game of a three-match ban, was replaced by Forrest, while Mikael Lustig came in for the injured Kris Commons and Emilio Izaguirre returned at the expense of Darnell Fisher.

In Brown’s absence, Georgios Samaras was granted the captain’s armband and – perhaps energised by the accolade or, more likely, the adrenalin surge provided by the customary bedlam of a big European night in the east end of Glasgow – he linked with Izaguirre in a forceful surge down the Celtic left to force the first corner of the night after only three minutes.

This set the tone for an opening 20 minutes during which Ajax appeared a distant figure to Forster, who had to keep himself occupied while his colleagues foraged in the Dutch half. However, early optimism was tempered by a nagging concern that Celtic were not able to secure the final decisive touch that would ­convert energy into advantage, encapsulated by two attempts by Forrest, within seconds of each other, to force the opening goal from the right.

His first effort was a driven cross which would have been significantly more effective had he taken a glance to assess his options. Moments later he applied the lesson by dipping the ball into the box just ahead of Teemu Pukki, but the Finnish striker could not get the contact that would have menaced the Ajax goal.

Off the field, meanwhile, the Ajax support in their small corner staged their own version of Little Voice with a sustained barrage of chants and songs which finally stung the home support into staging their mass huddle, an action which – with 55,000 turning their back on the action – would have cost them a sight of the opening goal, had Kolbeinn Sigthorsson done better than to hit the side netting.

Ajax went even closer when Charlie Mulgrew’s headed interception of a Viktor Fischer free-kick fell to ­Christian Poulsen, who volleyed off the post.

But, having survived those scares, Celtic struck the crucial first blow almost on the stroke of half-time when Denswil mistimed a challenge on Stokes inside the box for a clear penalty kick.

Forrest stepped up to the spot but was forced to wait for over two minutes – during which Poulsen and Virgil van Dijk were booked – and Jasper Cillessen produced a parade of shenanigans that barely stopped short of tackling the Celtic man.

Forrest’s reply was precise and to the point as he swept a placed right- foot conversion into the top corner. The next pivotal incident came seven minutes into the second half, when Forster produced his obligatory big save when exposed by Thulani Serero but blocking the shot and clearing with his trailing foot.

The value of Forster’s action was demonstrated instantly as Celtic swept downfield where a Samaras shot rebounded into the path of Kayal, whose placed return drive was diverted past Cillessen by Denswil’s outstretched boot.

Elsewhere in Group H, a Lionel Messi strike saw Barcelona maintain their two point lead at the top after drawing 1-1 at AC Milan.

The Argentine struck in the 23rd minute with a fine finish to a breakaway move to cancel out Robinho’s stylish ninth minute opener, which came during a frantic opening period of pressure from the home side.

Barca dominated the second half against a tired Milan, but despite a couple of good chances could not make the most of their possession and had to settle for a point.

Match details

Celtic (4-4-2): Forster; Lustig (Biton 77), Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre; Forrest, Kayal (Ledley 71), Mulgrew, Samaras; Stokes, Pukki (Balde 90). Subs Zaluska (g), Rogic, Fisher, Atajic. Booked Van Dijk. Sent off Biton.

Ajax (4-3-3): Cillessen; Van Rhijn (Schone 80), Veltman, Denswil, Blind; De Jong, Poulsen (Boilesen 67), Serero; Andersen, Sigthorsson, Fischer (De Sa 72). Subs Vermeer (g), Van der Hoorn, Klaasen, Hoesen. Booked Veltman, Poulsen.

Referee I Bebek (Croatia).

Source: Telegraph

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