The Scottish champions were dumped out of the third qualifying round in August by Dan Petrescu’s side, but Neil Lennon’s men coasted to victory to follow up their draw in Rennes.
There was no real danger of a repeat of the shock that halted Celtic two months ago, despite Kevin Boli rightly having his effort for the visitors ruled out for offside with the game at 1-0.
Rennes’ 2-1 defeat in Rome now means Neil Lennon’s side go into the double header against Serie A giants Lazio, starting off in Glasgow in three weeks’ time, in a strong position with a one-point lead.
Celtic turn dominance in to goals
Petrescu took unwell in Glasgow on the eve of the game and ducked out of his pre-match media commitments. Celtic wanted to make sure they did little to aid his recovery, and left him truly sick to his stomach with the way they set about this match.
Few in the stadium were surprised when Boli Bolingoli crossed delightfully on to the head of Edouard to send Celtic Park into a rapturous rendition of their favourite Stone Roses hit I wanna to be adored, with the lyrics slightly adapted to I wanna be Edouard.
It left Cluj facing the music for failing to withstand the torrent. And I don’t just mean the incessant rain that made the Celtic Park surface extra skiddy. When the Romanian champions came to town in mid August, a flat start from Celtic made life very comfortable for the visitors. Not the case at all this time around.
As the heavens opened, Celtic poured forward straight away, threatening to flood their opponents in a deluge of chances. Twice they could have scored earlier via the towering figure of defender Christopher Jullien but the Frenchman’s first header was well saved and the second was wayward, sailing over the bar. James Forrest was played in but his delivery across goal had no takers.
There is no VAR in the Europa League but the officials were still quick to cut Boli’s celebrations short by a flag for offside. The correct call, TV replays would later show. Try telling that to the Cluj players, who howled their protests at the German referee Daniel Siebert.
Not as loudly as the Celtic fans derided Mario Rondon for a blatant dive as half time approached, as he tried to con the ref into awarding a penalty. The home fans’ standing section, housing the Green Brigade, displayed a Boxing banner before kick off which exclaimed ‘Aint nothing wrong with getting knocked down, it’s staying down that’s wrong’. It was a body-blow for the club being sent packing from the Champions League on their own patch by Cluj in August. They were determined, despite the black clouds overhead, that lightning wouldn’t strike twice.
What they craved was a second goal to turn their dominance into a more tangible advantage. Forrest almost provided it just after halftime but shot wide. But just when Cluj thought they had weathered the storm, Mohamed Elyanoussi picked the right night to score his first goal for Celtic. On loan from Southampton, he started and finished a flowing move, albeit his shot spun past the keeper on the greasy surface after taking a huge deflection off a defender. Not an hour played, and the Scottish champions two goals to the good.
At the other end, they needed Fraser Forster to stay alert, and he did, tipping Billel Omrani’s dangerous shot across his goal away from danger. Up the other end Celtic sprinted, with James Forrest skipping through the raindrops to bring another tidy save from the Cluj keeper. Incessant rain; non-stop action as Cluj tried to claw a way back while Celtic threatened on the counter; vociferous backing from the royally-entertained fans; Parkhead was surely built for nights like this as Celtic strolled to the top of group E ahead of a double-header with Italians Lazio.
And they could have enjoyed their night even more. Ryan Christie was a whisker away from touching in a fine Elyanoussi cross while Odsonne Edourd fired just over in the last few minutes as he sought a second, and a third for his team.
What a difference a few weeks make. Down and out of the Champions League after scoring three times against Cluj but conceding one more, this looks and feels like a different Celtic. Their aim is European football in the New Year. Two matches into the group, they’ve made promising progress down that road already.
Man of the match – Boli Bolingoli
There were several contenders in a Celtic shirt. Edouard was excellent up front, ably assisted by wide men Forrest and Elyanoussi. Brown, Christie and McGregor rarely put a foot wrong in midfield. But I’m going further back in the team for my man of the match.
Last time Cluj were in town, Boli Bolingoli was dropped after a very shaky start to his Celtic career and midfielder Calum McGregor took his place against the Romanians. How he’s grown into life in Scotland since. His pace down the left hand side caused Cluj problems all night; he provided a fine assist for the first goal, placing the ball delightfully onto Edouard’s forehead; and wasn’t afraid to try his own luck either.
An outrageous effort with the outside of his left boot flew just over before he made the visiting keeper Arlauskis work properly shortly thereafter with a powerful long range shot. His performance wasn’t a total bed of roses; he still has a mistake in him and made a few tonight but for his energy, enthusiasm, willingness to work – added to the undoubted quality he possesses in the opponent’s half – I’ll give the Belgian fullback the man of the match award.
- 2JullienBooked at 46mins
- 42McGregorBooked at 25mins
- 49ForrestSubstituted forHayesat 86′minutes
- 17ChristieSubstituted forNtchamat 90′minutes
- 22EdouardBooked at 88mins
- 45Malino Paulino
- 6Coimbra AurélioSubstituted forCulioat 57′minutes
- 8DjokovicBooked at 51minsSubstituted forGolofcaat 81′minutes
- 99RondónBooked at 42minsSubstituted forPaunat 70′minutes
- 1Fernández Collado
- Daniel Siebert
- Shots on Target
Attempt missed. Juan Emmanuel Culio (CFR Cluj) left footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.
Foul by Mateo Susic (CFR Cluj).
Attempt missed. Abdel Billel Omrani (CFR Cluj) left footed shot from the centre of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Ciprian Deac with a cross following a set piece situation.
Catalin Golofca (CFR Cluj) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Corner, CFR Cluj. Conceded by Hatem Elhamed.
Substitution, CFR Cluj. Catalin Golofca replaces Damjan Djokovic.
Foul by Damjan Djokovic (CFR Cluj).
Offside, CFR Cluj. Alexandru Paun tries a through ball, but Ciprian Deac is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Alexandru Paun (CFR Cluj) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Ciprian Deac.
Foul by Mihai Bordeianu (CFR Cluj).
Substitution, CFR Cluj. Alexandru Paun replaces Mario Rondón.
Offside, CFR Cluj. Abdel Billel Omrani tries a through ball, but Juan Emmanuel Culio is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Camora (CFR Cluj) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Andrei Burca (CFR Cluj) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt saved. Ciprian Deac (CFR Cluj) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Camora.
Foul by Mateo Susic (CFR Cluj).
Abdel Billel Omrani (CFR Cluj) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, CFR Cluj. Juan Emmanuel Culio replaces Luís Aurélio.