Routine victory for Hoops

PA Sport
Celtic's Georgios Samaras helped Celtic ease into the Champions League play-offs
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Celtic's Georgios Samaras helped Celtic ease into the Champions League play-offs

Celtic eased into the Champions League play-offs with a 2-0 victory over HJK Helsinki in their third qualifier thanks to goals from Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras at the Sonera Stadium.

The Wales international bundled Charlie Mulgrew's cross into the net the 66th minute before Samaras scored five minutes from the end to give the Scottish champions a 4-1 aggregate win and only their second away victory in Europe in 34 attempts.

Midfielder Victor Wanyama was red-carded in the second-half after picking up a second yellow card but that did not take away from the Hoops' win which would could have been more convincing had skipper Scott Brown, who passed a fitness test on his hip complaint before the game, not missed an early sitter before Samaras passed up on a decent chance moments later.

However, manager Neil Lennon will be delighted to take one step closer to the lucrative group stages of European football's elite club competition. The Scottish champions slowly grew in confidence and in the 12th minute Brown should have put the visitors ahead.

Mulgrew's pass beat the HJK defence to find the Scotland midfielder but although his first touch was good, he missed the target from 12 yards with just keeper Ville Wallen to beat. Less than two minutes later Samaras appeared ready to burst the net when he took a Kris Commons pass but he fired wide of the far post from the edge of the box.

Gary Hooper had the ball in the net but the flag was up for offside. Hoops keeper Fraser Forster might have had to make his first save 10 minutes from the break if HJK Helsinki winger Demba Savage had not taken a fresh air swipe from Sebastian Sorsa's cross to the back post.

Forster was called into action soon afterwards but only to make a comfortable save from Mika Vayrynen's long-distance drive. In the 43rd minute, Commons sent Hooper free down the right with a wonderful pass which allowed the former Scunthorpe striker to round Wallen but he ran too wide and the keeper saved the angled-drive.

The visitors had a penalty claim in the 51st minute when Wanyama's header at the back post from Commons' free-kick appeared to strike the arm of HJK defender Timi Lahti but referee Schorgenhofer waved play on.

Celtic's opening goal came when Mulgrew decided to go on a run down the right flank to link up with Samaras and when his in-swinging cross came into the box Ledley chested it past Wallen from a couple of yards out.

It looked like the visitors were cruising to victory but there was concern with 20 minutes remaining when Wanyama was dismissed after picking up his second yellow card, this time for a foul on Vayrynen. However, Samaras made sure of the win in the 86th minute when he took a pass from Ledley and fired low in to the far corner from 10 yards.

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