Celtic are one step closer to the Champions League group stages
after beating HJK Helsinki to claim a rare European away win and
progress to the play-off round 4-1 on aggregate.
The Hoops had only won once away from home in Europe in their
past 33 attempts but, after a nervy first half, Joe Ledley gave
them a 67th-minute lead on the night when he chested a Charlie
Mulgrew cross past goalkeeper Ville Wallen.
Four minutes later Celtic were reduced to ten men when Victor
Wanyama, who had already been booked, was shown a second yellow
card for a challenge on Mika Vayrynen.
Despite their numerical advantage, the Finnish champions couldn't
find a way back into the game and with four minutes remaining
Giorgos Samaras added a second after being set up by Ledley.
Neil Lennon's side will now be seeded for the play-off round,
with the draw being made in Switzerland on Friday.
"It's one of the best feelings I've had since I came here as
manager. We worked very hard to get this right," the Celtic
"To come through the tie over the two legs and to play as well as
we did tonight makes me so proud of the players."
Celtic welcomed back captain Scott Brown from injury at the
Sonera Stadium while Mulgrew came back into the starting line-up
following suspension with Anthony Stokes and Beram Kayal dropping
to the bench.
The Scottish title-holders enjoyed a period of prolonged
possession at the start with Adam Matthews sending in a good
cross for Gary Hooper, but the ball got caught between his feet
and the Finns cleared the danger.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg in Glasgow, HJK knew that getting
the opening goal would put them in the driving seat on the night,
and Demba Savage was the first to threaten for the home side when
he cut in from the left and let fly, but his rising shot was no
real danger for Fraser Forster.
Hoops captain Brown missed a golden chance in the 13th minute
when he raced clear after collecting a long ball from Mulgrew but
he stabbed his shot wide from 10 yards.
And Samaras then sliced an angled shot wide of Wallen's post as
Celtic continued to press for an away goal.
Just after the break Forster came to the rescue for Celtic when
he made a vital save from Sebastian Sorsa's first-time shot to
keep his side ahead on aggregate.
HJK then threatened from a corner as Mathias Lindstrom rose above
a cluster of defenders to get a header on target but Forster
scooped the ball away.
However, Ledley relieved the pressure when he grabbed a vital
away goal midway through the second half.
Mulgrew popped up on the right wing and delivered a great cross
for the Welshman to chest past the keeper.
Things took a turn for the worse for Celtic four minutes later
when Wanyama, who had already booked for clattering into the back
of Sorsa, picked up a second yellow when he took a careless swipe
at Vayrynen in the centre circle.
But the Finnish champions, who were unbeaten at home in over two
years, failed to find a way past a stubborn Hoops defence and
their fate was sealed when Ledley cut the ball back from the
by-line for Samaras to curl a shot past Wallen from 10 yards and
seal a rare away win for Celtic.