Champions League

Celtic defeat Karagandy in thriller

Champions League: James Forrest's last minute goal sends Celtic into the group stage.
Champions League: James Forrest's last minute goal sends Celtic into the group stage.
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Celtic reached the Champions League group stages for the second successive season after beating Shakhter Karagandy in a dramatic playoff 3-0 with an injury-time James Forrest goal.

The Hoops were trailing 2-0 to the Kazakhstan champions from the trip to Astana, but they treated their fans to a great European night in the east end of Glasgow. Shakhter keeper Aleksandr Mokin made a series of good saves during the expected early onslaught but in the first of two added minutes at the end of the first half, Kris Commons thundered in a left-footed drive from 25 yards to give the home side the lead.

That deserved breakthrough was the boost needed to go and finish the job in the second half. Greece international Georgios Samaras grabbed number two three minutes after the break to shake Celtic Park to its foundations.

As the home side went for number three to prevent extra time, striker Anthony Stokes hit the bar with a volley on the hour mark. The Scottish champions survived a couple of scares as Shakhter tried to fight their way back into the tie but in the second minute of injury time Forrest slammed the ball high in to the net from a Stokes pass to send Parkead wild and take Neil Lennon's men into tomorrow's draw for the second successive season.

The goal sparked wild scenes of celebration after the final whistle as the Celtic fans once again looked forward to mixing it with Europe's elite. The night started on a positive note for the Scottish champions.

Lennon was boosted by the return of Commons, Samaras, Stokes and Forrest who had all recovered from their respective injuries. However, the Northern Irishman revealed a reshuffled central defense with full-back Mikael Lustig partnering Efe Ambrose, with Adam Matthews and Charlie Mulgrew at right and left-back respectively.

GROUP STAGE BOUND

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In the fifth minute of a frantic, fiery opening, Mokin made a great save from Lustig's close-range header following a perfect cross by Commons. The visitors escaped the subsequent corner but their rearguard action had only just begun.

Five minutes later Stokes made a good run to take a clever Commons pass inside the box and rounded the keeper but defender Nikola Vasiljevic turned the Irishman's cut-back away for a corner, quickly taken, from which Mokin tipped Forrest's drive over the bar. The visitors survived again but the green and white tide refused to be kept at bay.

Stokes' header from a Forrest cross drew another good save from Mokin before the keeper turned away a vicious Commons free-kick from out wide. Shakhter posed a real threat for the first time in the 27th minute when skipper Andrei Finonchenko floated a free-kick to the back post where Vasiljevic rose to head back across and fellow defender Aldin Dzidic headed over.

Six minutes before the break the visitors broke forward again and Lustig had to block a shot from Shakhter striker Sergei Khizhnichenko, as the home fans breathed a sigh of relief. That relief turned to joy when Commons' powerful drive just before the end of the first half changed the complexion of the game, which altered completely three minutes into the second half when Samaras leveled.

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Shakhter failed to properly clear their lines following another corner and Lustig's drive from outside the box fell kindly to the Greek striker, who quickly swept the ball past Mokin from 10 yards. Celtic continued to pile on the pressure with Stokes hitting the bar with a volley from 10 yards after being set up by Forrest.

There was a heart-stopping moment for Celtic soon afterwards, following a Shakhter corner, when Hoops right-back Adam Matthews had to clear a Dzidic header off the line with keeper Fraser Forster out of his goal. Seconds later, from Gedinimas Vicius' long throw, one of the main Kazakh weapons, the Hoops defence were in trouble, escaping when Khizhnichenko's flick from six yards hit the crossbar before flying to safety.

The game took a well-deserved, if brief, breather. For the first time Shakhter began pushing forward with some purpose if little guile but it looked as if the Parkhead side had at least one more goal in them. As the game edged towards extra-time the tension mounted.

Dutch forward Derk Boerrigter replaced Commons in the 79th minute as Celtic stepped up their efforts for the winning goal. It looked, however, as if the game was going into extra time until Stokes drove into the box and set up Forrest for the most dramatic and lucrative winner.

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