An impressive performance from Scottish champions Celtic FC at Ewood Park secured a 2-0 win against England's Blackburn Rovers FC in their all-British UEFA Cup second round second-leg tie, and with it a surprisingly easy 3-0 aggregate victory.
Leading 1-0 after the first leg thanks to a late Henrik Larsson goal, Celtic manager Martin O’Neill chose to field an attacking side, including the prolific Swede, John Hartson and former Blackburn striker Chris Sutton in his starting lineup. Although his side were much the better throughout and thoroughly deserved their win, initially it looked as if O’Neill's adventurous tactics might well backfire.
Bright Blackburn start
A perceptive through-ball from John Curtis gave Andy Cole a clear sight of goal in the seventh minute, but the former English international failed to make proper contact with his shot and the ball rebounded off Celtic goalkeeper Robert Douglas's legs and away to safety. Damien Duff saw his low shot saved seven minutes later but, on the quarter-hour, Celtic were ahead.
Good work from Didier Agathe gave Sutton space in midfield, and although his attempted pass ran away from Hartson, who lost his footing, the ball fell to an unmarked Larsson, who raced into the penalty area before coolly clipping the ball past Brad Friedel.
The away goal left Blackburn with a mountain to climb, needing three goals without reply to win the tie. However, they came close to pulling one back in the 25th minute, when David Thompson's powerful free-kick from the left-hand corner of the Celtic penalty area hit the crossbar and bounced over.
Celtic in charge
That effort aside, Celtic were on top for the remainder of the half, and restricted the home side to long-range efforts which largely failed to trouble Douglas. O’Neill's tactics were thoroughly vindicated, as Sutton regularly dropped back into midfield to make an extra man, and excellent performances and tireless running from Stilian Petrov, Neil Lennon and Didier Agathe meant the home team never looked likely to find a way back into the game.
Sutton's scoring return'Credit to Celtic'
The tie should have been all over three minutes into the second half, as Larsson found himself with time and space inside the Blackburn penalty area and, although his low cross was missed by a sliding Sutton, an unmarked Hartson sliced his shot wide. However, it was 2-0 in the 68th minute when Sutton marked his return to Lancashire with a goal, getting ahead of Lucas Neill to glance Stilian Petrov's left-wing corner into the net and make the last 20 minutes of the tie academic.
"I thought Celtic played very well tonight, and I knew it would be a different game from the first leg," said Blackburn manager Graeme Souness. "The first goal changed everything, and it would have been a different game if we had scored first." For O'Neill, everything went to plan. "I thought we were capable of scoring goals tonight," he said. "I was delighted when Henrik scored, as it settled us down. We deserved to win the game, and I am delighted for my players."