No problems for Celtic against Linfield

Celtic booked their place in the Champions League third qualifying round as expected with a 4-0 trouncing of Linfield at Parkhead to go through 6-0 on aggregate.

The Hoops led 2-0 from the first-leg against the Northern Irish part-timers at Windsor Park on Friday night and the return encounter was even more one-sided with Scott Sinclair's fourth-minute goal no reflection on the first 45 minutes.

The goals came more readily after the break as midfielder Tom Rogic, who like Sinclair had scored in Belfast, added a second two minutes after the restart before Sinclair grabbed his second.

Substitute Stuart Armstrong added a fourth in added time to send Brendan Rodgers' side comfortably into the next round, where they will play Norwegian side Rosenborg with the first game at Celtic Park next week.

The Scottish champions are sure to be given a stiffer test against the Eliteserien league leaders, who overcame Dundalk after extra-time.

Both Celtic and Linfield were keen to focus on the football following first-leg trouble.

The Belfast side were cited by UEFA for the behaviour of their fans while Celtic were called to account for picking up five bookings and striker Leigh Griffiths charged with provoking home supporters by tying a Hoops scarf to a goal post after the game.

Rodgers made three changes with 21-year-old French midfielder Olivier Ntcham handed his debut while striker Moussa Dembele took over from Griffiths, who was out with a calf injury, and midfielder Callum McGregor also started.

The visitors had no more intention of opening up away from home than they did in Belfast and they quickly retreated into a blue defensive wall which could only hold firm for minutes.

After a drive from Ntcham was blocked, Sinclair pounced to squeeze the ball into the net with former Rangers goalkeeper Roy Carroll left stranded.

It promised to be a long night for David Healy's side who almost lost a second when Dembele got on the end of a Kieran Tierney cross only to lift his shot over the bar.

The French striker had a powerful header saved by Carroll and as the Scottish treble-winners utterly dominated, Rogic and Sinclair came close with shots.

Dembele missed the target with a far too casual effort with only Carroll to beat before Rogic missed an even better chance, poking the ball past the post from only a couple of yards out.

However, the Australia international made up for that miss in the 47th minute when, after taking a pass from Ntcham at the edge of the box, he fired low past the flailing Carroll.

Linfield grew increasingly fatigued and Sinclair took advantage in the 55th minute following a deflected Ntcham pass to sweep the ball high into the net and it became a case of how many the Hoops would score.

In the 63rd minute the crossbar denied Sinclair his hat-trick, keeping his curling shot from distance out of the net with Carroll perhaps getting a touch.

Ntcham and James Forrest were replaced by Armstrong and Jonny Hayes, the latter soon testing the overworked Linfield keeper with a dipping free-kick which he tipped over the crossbar.

Another of Rodgers' summer signings Kundai Benyu, 19, replaced McGregor to make his competitive debut and he too began to drive at the tired-looking visiting defence.

In the final stages, with Linfield gasping for the final whistle, Carroll saved a chip from Rogic and a long-distance effort from Tierney.

Blues defender Mark Stafford came close in the 89th minute with an overhead kick which just missed the target before Armstrong slammed the ball into the net in added time to make it a more emphatic aggregate score.


KEYWORDS: sport, soccer, Celtic

 

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