With Rangers’ demotion to the Third Division making another SPL title for Celtic a formality, boss Neil Lennon has placed huge emphasis on his side giving a good account of themselves in the Champions League this season.
And after negotiating two potentially tricky qualifying rounds and picking up a goalless home draw against Benfica in their opening Group G match, the Bhoys enjoyed a real red-letter day in the competition on Tuesday as they won 3-2 at Spartak Moscow.
Celtic took the lead early on through Gary Hooper but looked to be in trouble after Emmanuel Emineke scored either side of half-time to put the Russian outfit in the driving seat.
However, Spartak were reduced to ten men when Juan Insaurralde was given his marching orders for a crude trip on Hooper and parity was restored when Dmitri Kombarov put through his own net with 19 minutes remaining.
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The remarkable turnaround was complete when Georgios Samaras headed home a cross from Emilio Inzaguirre in injury-time to give Celtic a historic first-ever away triumph in the Champions League group stages at the 19th time of asking.
Lennon’s men briefly went top of their group after the superb result in the early kick-off at the Luzhniki Stadium, but Barcelona’s subsequent 2-0 victory at Benfica means the Catalans lead the way with six points.
With Celtic now facing a double-header against Lionel Messi and company – starting with a trip to the Nou Camp in three weeks’ time – they will be hard pressed to add to their current tally of four points before renewing hostilities with Benfica in Lisbon on November 20th.
However, they currently sit proudly in second place and there is now real belief within the squad that they could advance to the last 16 as runners-up behind Barca, who are 1/100 to seal an inevitable group win.
Celtic are rated as 2/1 shots to escape Group G and anyone backing them to do so with their free £20 bet upon registering with bwin will pocket £60 if the Hoops can hold off the challenges of Benfica and Spartak to progress to the knock-out stages.
But for now, Lennon must ensure that his players remained focused on the immediate domestic challenges ahead, starting with Sunday’s home SPL clash against Hearts.
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