LEIGH Griffiths took delight last night in denying Astana’s outspoken players the revenge they craved for last year’s Champions League qualifying defeat to the Parkhead side. Striker Patrick Twumasi had spoken confidently pre-match about how this play-off round tie was a chance for the Kazakhs to atone for their defeat in the third round 12 months ago. But while it took a last minute penalty from Moussa Dembele to seal a 3-2 aggregate win a year back, on last night’s evidence the difference between the two teams has grown into a yawning chasm in the last 12 months.
While Griffiths said Celtic still had to be careful ahead of the 8,000-mile round trip to Astana next Tuesday, this 5-0 win was perhaps as straightforward a final round Champions League qualifying win for a Scottish club as any in the history of our game.
“They were all full of talk about how they were destined for the Champions League,” said Griffiths, who tormented the Kazakhs all night, even though he ended up with just three assists. “You need to remember we put them out last season. They need to start doing their talking on the pitch. We don’t shout from the rooftops. We don’t get above our station. We do our talking on the pitch as you saw tonight.
“It was magic,” he added. “If someone had said to you before the game it would be 5-0 you’d have snapped their hand off – in fact you’d have snapped both of them off.
“We are capable of that. When we are on our game we can destroy anybody. This time last year we struggled to get through these ties – especially against Astana when it took a last minute penalty. Everyone was a bit nervous thinking it was going to go to extra-time. You see how far we’ve come in a year. We absolutely blew them away and we’ve punished them in the end.
“Next week we’ll need to be cautious. We don’t want to concede. If we do there won’t be any drama. We’re under no illusions as to how difficult a task it’s going to be. But we don’t need to win the game. We’ll go over there with caution and hopefully after the 90 minutes we’re through to the Champions League.”
While he was typically disappointed to learn that his late strike had in fact been awarded as an own goal to Astana’s Igor Shitov, the 26-year-old from Leith appreciated being singled out by BT Sport pundit Steven Gerrard as the ‘catalyst’ for everything Celtic achieved. “It is nice to hear, especially from someone of that calibre. He has won all there is to win and has won this competition himself so to hear that is nice.”
He said he would be sure to share the moment with his young children this morning over the phone. “My son [Rhys] was starting school and my other kids couldn’t be here. But I am sure they were watching on TV. When I wake up they’ll be Face-timing before they go to school and saying how well we did.”
Oliver Ntcham went off into the night dreaming of a re-match with his former clubs Manchester City. “Why can’t Celtic do as well against Manchester City as last season if we get through and are drawn against them?” he said. “Anything can happen.”
Source : HeraldScotland