Celtic march on in Champions League
A 10-man Celtic booked their place in the next round of the Champions League with a comprehensive 2-0 win over HJK Helsinki in the Finnish capital.
The Bhoys brought a 2-1 lead into this third qualifying round second leg tie and added to their advantage with goals from Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras. Celtic were always in control despite Victor Wanyama being sent off in the 71st minute, and they were rarely threatened by the Finnish side.
HJK took the initiative from the whistle and pushed forward. It was Gambian winger Demba Savage who had one of the early chances, but it ended up far enough over the bar that Fraser Forster didn't give it a second thought.
This game was played on a synthetic pitch, and as Celtic came to terms with the surface, they came more into the game. By the end of the first quarter Adam Matthews and Kris Commons were raiding up the right wing trying to create an opening. But HJK stuck to their task, and while it may not have been pretty, they repelled each attack.
Celtic had their first clear cut chance on 12 minutes when Scott Brown collected a through ball and found himself on his own inside the box, but his shot trickled to the right and wide. Two minutes later it was Samaras who found space to shoot from the left hand edge of the box, but his shot flashed past the face of the goal and wide.
Gary Hooper was heavily involved in the action mid-way through the first half. On 26 minutes he gave away a free kick for backing into his marker on the edge of the HJK box, and following this Kris Commons received a yellow card for fighting the case for a Celtic free. Three minutes later and Hooper had the ball in the Finnish net, but it wouldn't count as his attack had seen him drift offside.
On 33 minutes HJK finally looked to be getting their act together as Savage powered down the right hand touchline. Matthews forced him over the line, but from the resulting throw, Sebastian Sumusala took possession and drifted inside. As before, his shot-cum-cross went high and over the cross bar.
Two minutes later and a searching cross from the left found Savage free at Celtic's back post, but the HJK poacher fluffed his shot and failed to even hit the target.
On 39 minutes Mika Varynen let fly to try and level up the tie, but his shot was straight at the body of Forster in the Celtic goal. HJK looked out of options at this point.
Celtic had two chances just before the half-time whistle and Commons was the orchestrator for both. On 42 minutes he swung a cross from the right wing into the path of Samaras, but again, the linesman's flag was up. One minute later, Commons played a through ball for Hooper to run on to but he played the ball too far in front of himself and his shot from an acute angle rolled into the 'keeper's hands.
As in the first game, HJK came out fighting in the second half. Two minutes into the half, Sebastian Sorsa found himself in acres of space in front of goal but his shot bobbled to the left and wide. In the 49th minute Savage harried his way through the Celtic defence, but his pass from the end line didn't meet its intended target.
Minutes later the action was down the other end of the pitch as Charlie Mulgrew attacked down the right wing. He was pulled down and when the resulting free was floated in to Wanyama at the back post there were shouts for a penalty. In another incident that recalled the first leg of this tie, the referee wasn't interested.
As tension rose, the tackles were coming thick and fast. Mulgrew picked up a yellow card in the 52nd minute after pulling over Joel Perovuo and two minutes later Wanyama picked up his first yellow for a tackle on Sorsa.
HJK could have taken the lead in what was their most clear cut chance of the game in the 61st minute. A looping crossfield pass in the direction of Savage was put out for a HJK corner and the resultant set piece saw Mathias Lindstrom get a clear header on target. As he headed the ball down it bounced in front of Forster in the Celtic goal and out of play.
Celtic finally broke the deadlock on 67 minutes when Ledley latched on to a cross from the left by Mulgrew to chest the ball into the net at the back post.
But only three minutes later Celtic's night could have taken a turn for the worse. A sloppy tackle by Wanyama on Vayrynen saw him receive his second yellow card of the night and the Bhoys were down to ten men.
This hiccup did not adversely affect the Scots and from here on out they played with nine men behind the ball. Neil Lennon brought on Beram Kayal and James Forrest to tie things down and the rest of the game saw HJK in possession, but facing a line of black shirts.
The Finnish side held possession for long periods and tried to play beyond the Celtic defence but try as they might, Lennon's men were not willing to give in.
Ledley was involved again late in the game as Celtic wrapped up the tie. Following a counter-attack by Scott Brown, Ledley found space on the right touch line and pulled a pass back to Samaras who drove the ball into the left corner of the net to see Celtic through.
Despite having their chances HJK were never a real threat to a Celtic side that did just enough to secure safe passage into the next round.