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Celtic face tough task after shock defeat

August 21, 2013 at 1:04 am | News Desk

Celtic's-Manager-Neil-LennoASTANA, Kazakhstan: Celtic face a fight to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League after a shock 2-0 defeat to Kazakh minnows Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of their play-off match.

The Scottish champions had started brightly and twice threatened from early corners before Shakhter captain Andrei Fionchenko prodded his side into a 12th minute lead after a long throw-in caused problems in the Celtic defence.

Kris Commons hit the woodwork, Georgios Samaras glanced a header wide and James Forrest saw his effort clawed off the line by ‘keeper Alexsandr Mokin as the Hoops came close to a crucial away goal.

But it was Sergei Khizhnichenko who doubled Shakhter’s lead in the 76th minute when he headed past Fraser Forster from close range to put his side in the driving seat to become the first Kazakhstan side to reach the group stages of the Champions League.

The defeat leaves Celtic, who reached the last 16 of the competition last season, with a mountain to climb in next Wednesday’s return leg in Glasgow.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon made a couple of selection surprises as he handed Virgil van Dijk his first start for the club as he partnered Steven Mouyokolo, who only made his debut in last weekend’s win against Aberdeen, in the centre of defence.

The visitors made a strong start and Shakhter had to scramble clear after van Dijk and ‘keeper Mokin clashed contesting Charlie Mulgrew’s early corner.

The Scottish champions smelled blood and from another corner Mokin pushed away a strong header from van Dijk while Mouyokolo couldn’t force home the ball from close range.

Celtic hadn’t conceded in seven consecutive qualifying matches but it was Shakhter who took the lead against the run of play. A long throw-in that was launched into the box was flicked on and home skipper Fionchenko took advantage of some hesitancy in the Celtic defence to poke the ball past Forster from close range.

Celtic regrouped and came inches away from an equaliser minutes later when Commons let fly with a powerful strike from 30 yards that smashed against the crossbar and bounced off the line before being cleared to safety.

The Scotland international then nodded over before Samaras glanced a Mulgrew free-kick wide of the post.

Emilio Izaguirre conjured up a chance for himself just after the break when he cut in from the left to collect a Commons pass before jinking past two defenders but he blasted well over with the goal at his mercy.

Forrest should have levelled the tie in the 73rd minute when he met Izaguirre’s cross to bullet a header towards goal but Mokin superbly stopped it on the line.

Shakhter claimed what could be a crucial second goal when Gediminas Vicius’ deflected shot looped up for Khizhnichenko to nod past Forster.

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