Celtic FC emerged the winners in their all-British UEFA Cup second round first-leg tie at home to Blackburn Rovers FC, but they were made to sweat before Henrik Larsson's late goal.
John Hartson was introduced for Paul Lambert 14 minutes from the end, and the Welsh striker won Celtic a corner five minutes from time with his first serious shot. Alan Thompson swung the ball over to Hartson, whose header was blocked well by David Thompson, but fell nicely for Larsson who made no mistake from close range.
Larsson's winner took the former Swedish international's goal
tally for Celtic in Europe to 22, which overtakes the Scottish record formerly held by Rangers FC striker Ally McCoist who scored 21.
The first half saw Blackburn establish early dominance in midfield, notably for the first and last ten minutes of the period. Stilian Petrov did force Blackburn goalkeeper Brad Friedel to make the first save of the game on nine minutes from a header, but soon afterwards Celtic custodian Robert Douglas had to be alert to deny the lively Thompson and Nils-Eric Johansson.
Duff the danger
Damien Duff was causing Celtic all sorts of trouble on the Blackburn left, and his crosses forced Douglas to remain on his toes for most of the opening 45 minutes. At the other end, Larsson and former Blackburn striker Chris Sutton were not allowed any space, although the only half-time substitution saw Andy Cole appear up front for the visitors in place of Egil Østenstad.
Celtic take confidence
Celtic seemed to take confidence from not having conceded in the first half, and after the break had a spell of dominance, although without creating many clear-cut opportunities. Indeed, shots on goal were a rarity for much of the second half as both sides were given little room. Blackburn seemed the more likely side to score as Thompson continued to threaten, but the 85th-minute goal was for Celtic.
Hope for Blackburn
It was a shock for Blackburn, managed by Graeme Souness - formerly in charge of Celtic's city rivals Rangers FC - but despite their best efforts there was no time to level. However, their performance will give them hope that a one-goal deficit could well be overturned in two weeks.
Celtic manager Martin O'Neill admitted his side were fortunate. "We started very tentatively and we were nervous but it was a big occasion for the team," he said. "Blackburn came and played very well and perhaps they will feel hard done by at losing the game."
A disappointed Souness felt Blackburn deserved to take something from the game. He said: "That is the way it goes in football. Sometimes you get what you deserve in a game and sometimes you do not. We had the better of the match and the majority of possession, but we did not take our chances."
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