Celtic put AIK Stockholm to the sword to reach Europa League group stages
Celtic strutted into the group stages of the UEFA Europa League on Thursday night after a superb 4-1 win [6-1 on aggregate] over AIK in Stockholm.
James Forrest opened the scoring for the visitors before the home side were awarded a very soft penalty which as converted by Seb Larsson to draw AIK level. But less than a minute later, Mikey Johnston gave Celtic the lead again after some fine solo play - with a little hand from the AIK keeper. And the win was crowned off with two late goals from Christopher Jullien and Lewis Morgan.
Knowing that they would have to take the game to Celtic, AIK pressed forward from the start and after just two minutes, Sigthorsson hit the post with a nice volley.
Mikey Johnston had Celtic’s first chance of the match after seven minutes, when he drove at the IK defence but the Swedish side managed to clear the danger.
On 15 minutes, Kristoffer Ajer went off injured replaced by Anthony Ralston - a massive blow for Celtic during the tie as well as for Sunday’s Glasgow derby.
But while many thought that Celtic would be weakened by the change, Neil Lennon’s side took the lead just two minutes later when Edouard picked out James Forrest down the right flank. Forrest burst into the AIK penalty area and fired his shot high into the roof of the net with his left peg.
The goal dented AIK and despite a number of forays forward along with some rough tackles - Celtic were in a commanding position with a 3-0 aggregate lead.
But with half an hour gone, AIK were handed a lifeline after the referee awarded the Swedes the softest of penalties you will see when Seb Larsson was adjudged to have been fouled inside the box by Bolingoli - who had been caught on the wrong side of the player. Larsson converted from the spot and AIK breathed a huge sigh of relief knowing that they were still in with a shout.
That relief turned to despair less than a minute later though when Johnston cut in from down the left flank and fired a low ball across the face of goal which was spilled into the net by AIK keeper Linner bizarrely.
Into the second half, Craig Gordon was called into action near enough immediately and was more than up for the challenge. Before Celtic had further chances through Forrest, Edouard and Johnston.
Within the final 15 minutes of the game remaining, Lennon brought on Morgan and Bayo for Johnston and Edouard respectively - with the latter hobbling off injured - albeit it was later announced that he was suffering from cramp.
Bayo nearly got on the scoresheet five minutes from time after he unleashed a superb strike from 18 yards out forcing Linner into conceding a corner. And from the result set piece, Celtic made it 3-1 on the night after Jullien got the last touch on the ball to prod it home under pressure from captain Scott Brown.
And deep into injury time, substitute Lewis Morgan made it 4-1 after latching onto a ball from Forrest to knock it home.
It was something of a comfortable win for Celtic in the end as they secured their place in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League - with questions still lingering over their exit from the Champions League against Cluj.
The draw for the group stages of the competition takes place on Friday afternoon with Celtic hoping for a favourable draw to reach the knock out stages of the competition for the second successive season.
Attention now turns to Celtic’s trip to Ibrox on Sunday as they face Rangers.
AIK: Linner; Granli, Karlsson, Mets; Lundstrom, Larsson, Adu, Bahoui (Hussein 62), Jonsson; Obasi, Sightorsson (Goitom 62).
Subs not used: Dimitriadis, Lindkvist, Elyounoussi, Janosevic, Rashidi.
CELTIC: Gordon; Ajer (Ralston 15), Jullien, Bitton, Bolingoli; Brown, McGregor, Forrest, Christie, Johnston (Morgan 70); Edouard (Bayo 76).
Subs not used: Hazard, Hayes, Hayes, Griffiths.