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Celtic win at HJK to clinch play-off place

HJK Helsinki 0-2 Celtic FC (agg: 1-4)
Second-half strikes from Joe Ledley and Giorgos Samaras helped a ten-man Celtic side clinch a UEFA Champions League play-off spot.

Giorgos Samaras (left) scored Celtic's second four minutes from time at HJK
Giorgos Samaras (left) scored Celtic's second four minutes from time at HJK ©AFP/Getty Images

Second-half goals from Joe Ledley and Giorgos Samaras secured a ten-man Celtic FC victory at HJK Helsinki, booking them a place in the UEFA Champions League play-offs via a 4-1 aggregate win.

Neil Lennon's side were defending a slender advantage after last week's 2-1 win at Celtic Park, with HJK's away goal meaning the Scottish champions could not rest on their laurels. As the match wore on goalless, the visitors' nerves were tested, but eventually Ledley found the breakthrough and although Victor Wanyama was sent off soon after, Samaras completed the scoring four minutes from time.

Trying to kill off the tie early, Celtic had the best of a tight first half with Gary Hooper in particular proving a real handful for the HJK defense. The Bhoys could have taken the lead after 13 minutes as Scott Brown latched onto Charlie Mulgrew's clipped pass, but the Celtic captain steered his effort past the post when one-on-one with goalkeeper Ville Wallén. HJK ended the half brightly, as Mika Väyrynen tested Celtic keeper Fraser Forster and Demba Savage went close, before Hooper was denied by Wallén at a tight angle.

HJK spurned a couple of good opportunities after the restart, as Forster first deflected Sebastian Sorsa's shot narrowly past the post, before blocking Mathias Lindström's header. On the 67th minute, however, Celtic took the lead, when Mulgrew's cross picked out Ledley for a simple finish at the far post.

Home hopes were rekindled four minutes later as Wanyama was sent off after picking up a second yellow card. The hosts pressed forward but were unable to find a way through, and on 86 minutes Samaras ended any doubt, finding the corner of the net from Ledley's assist to seal a play-off place for Lennon's men. The UEFA Europa League play-offs now await HJK.

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