Celtic are in full control of the second round qualifying tie after beating Cliftonville 3-0 at Solitude in Belfast. Goals from Mikael Lustig, Georgious Samaras and James Forrest gave the Bhoys a win in their first competitive game of the season.
Celtic were missing key players, with Joe Ledley, Gary Hooper, Charlie Mulgrew and Adam Matthews all ruled out for the Scottish champions. That did not stop the rampant hoops though, who also hit the bar three times.
There were fears over the artificial pitch and how Celtic would cope, and also with their less than ideal pre-season leading up to the game. These fears were quickly crushed though as Commons hit the bar from a floating James Forrest cross just two minutes in. Celtic dominated, with both Commons and Forrest having openings that they couldn’t take advantage of.
It wasn’t long before the Hoops took the lead though. Cliftonville defender George McMullen nearly directed a Celtic cross into his own net which resulted in a superb Kris Commons corner, Mikael Lustig rising highest, guiding the ball into the hosts’ net to give Celtic an away goal.
Cliftonville tried to respond, with Liam Boyce threatening, his shot forced a routine save from Fraser Forster.
Celtic continued to press, and soon scored a second, James Forrest finding Samaras on the edge of the box, who smartly turned and rifled home to erase any lasting worries. The shot was unstoppable due to the sheer power and capped a marvellous opening spell from the visitors.
Celtic hit the woodwork again just before half time, Kris Commons showing his class by curling a shot towards the far post, seemingly heading for the top corner, some visitors were already celebrating, only to see the post deny the creative midfielder.
Cliftonville were much better in the second half, however they created no more than half chances. First, Stephen Garrett pounced on a short header from Lustig, but could not manage to direct the ball into the net after his slight touch forced a save from Forster.
Marc Smyth then caught a glimpse of goal but before he managed to get a shot away, Kelvin Wilson superbly took the ball from his feet to remove any danger. This was again the outcome when Liam Boyce squared the ball to Joe Gormley, just as he was about to shoot, Efe Ambrose was there to save the day.
Celtic soon reasserted their authority on the match as Commons tested Conor Devlin in the Cliftonville goal and Stokes then rattled the crossbar with a fine solo effort from a tight angle. Stokes had another chance when he hammered wide after good build up play.
Forrest looked increasingly threatening as more space became available. After a teasing run that left the Cliftonville defenders for dead, Forrest couldn’t find the target.
That was to change though just a few minutes later as Celtic added their third. James Forrest met a teasing through ball and slotted it under the despairing Conor Devlin in front of the five thousand supporters.
Neil Lennon was delighted with the victory and encouraged by his side’s performance. Celtic now travel to London to face Brentford on Saturday before hosting Cliftonville in the second leg on Tuesday. Supporters can now sleep easy after seeing their side score three vital away goals and keep a fine clean sheet.