Celtic freeze out Icemen in Murrayfield meltdown

NEW season … new manager … new venue … same old outcome.

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Virgil van Dijk leaps for joy after opening the scoring in Celtic's 4-0 win over KR Reykjavik
Virgil van Dijk leaps for joy after opening the scoring in Celtic's 4-0 win over KR Reykjavik

As they went through their half-time warm-up, Celtic's subs had more trouble avoiding the sprinklers than the 11 men who started this Champions League qualifier had avoiding a shock early exit at the hands of KR Reykjavik.

The Icelanders resembled wide-eyed tourists to the capital rather than serious opposition to Ronny Deila's Bhoys.

All they had to take home as a souvenir was a 4-0 defrosting - Virgil van Dijk and Teemu Pukki grabbing doubles - and a lesson in red-hot finishing.

They looked as out of place as a Glaswegian driving in a Games Lane, and would have been happy to escape with just a £50 fine.

Instead, they got a battering and a return ticket home to Reykjavik to concentrate on trying to retain their league championship.

Celtic? They can now look forward to facing the victors of tonight's game between St Pat's and Legia Warsaw in Dublin, that tie finely balanced at 1-1 after the first game in Poland.

It will be a rush to get all the arrangements in place for next week's first leg.

But, on all known evidence, Deila likes to do things at pace - especially on the pitch.

He has already expressed his desire to get down to business at his real place of work, Celtic Park, a pleasure denied him by the invasion of the Commonwealth Games to the East End of the city.

The large number of fans who made it through to Edinburgh wondered if Fraser Forster would ever be seen playing in Paradise again.

The news that a 'derisory' offer from Southampton had been dismissed out of hand by the Hoops was applauded by a support who, like the club, have come to value their keeper highly.

However, only the most optimistic of them believes that is the end of the matter, and that the 26-year-old will now see out the remaining two seasons of his contract.

The predators will continue to circle, looking to grab the richest quality Celtic have to offer. And, for now, that's Forster and Van Dijk, only Kris Commons' age precluding him from the same status.

Can anyone else step into the most-wanted category? Well, there are a few with the potential.

But, the harsh fact remains that, like Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama before them, Forster and Van Dijk are the jewels in the crown and, as such, the most sellable assets.

The sale over the last 12 months of other key components of the side which made it to the last 16 of the Champions League under Neil Lennon - Kelvin Wilson and Joe Ledley - has left the team Deila inherited short of experience in depth, a situation exacerbated by the loss to injury of skipper Scott Brown.

New recruits of genuine quality do not appear set to arrive any time soon, with the manager declaring the players already here are most likely going to have to get the club through this qualification programme.

If and when they reach what Deila describes as the Holy Grail of the Group Stage, the serious money may be released, relatively speaking.

But, it is a strategy gamble which the club nervously embraces each summer, and, one of these years, they will come unstuck.

Because a £15million black hole will appear in the club's accounts, which will make selling more key men even more difficult to avoid.

For now, though, the steady progress towards the Group Stage payday continues, though it's unlikely there will be many matches more one-sided than this.

The slim margin of victory in the first leg of their second qualifying round tie against KR ensured there were a few nerves when the return leg kicked off in the unusual surroundings of Murrayfield Stadium.

However, any tension dissipated after only 14 minutes when Van Dijk put the Hoops ahead.

Commons had seen a shot deflected past, and took the corner himself. KR keeper, Stefan Magnusson, misread the flight of it - and his ability to jump - allowing Charlie Mulgrew to head back into the danger area.

Van Dijk bundled the ball through a throng of players in the six-yard box and over the line.

It was double Dutch for the Hoops as the defender made it 2-0 six minutes later. Again the goal came from a Commons corner, again the keeper failed to connect, this time from Mikael Lustig's nod back across the box, and Van Dijk had a simple task to head home.

Truth be told, Celtic should have been in front even before any of this, Pukki - in for the injured Anthony Stokes - having seen his shot saved when through one-on-one with the keeper.

But, unlike last season, the Finn didn't lose heart. And, after having a good shot tipped over, he came back for more, connecting with an accurate, low cross from Callum McGregor to fire in from close range.

Only 27 minutes had elapsed, and it was a stroll in the evening sunshine. The tie had been over after the first leg, so little threat did the Icemen carry.

But Deila wanted a performance as well as a result - and goals, plenty of them.

He got all of that, and more, with Pukki adding the icing to the cake with his second of the night, 18 minutes from time, rattling in past two defenders from a difficult angle after rounding the keeper outside the box.

Murrayfield wasn't quite Paradise, but it was a very happy place, nevertheless.

CELTIC: Forster; Lustig, Ambrose, Van Dijk, Izaguirre (Matthews 61); Johansen, Mulgrew; Griffiths (Kayal 61), Commons, McGregor; Pukki (Henderson 72). Subs not used: Zaluska, Bitton, Boerrigter, Watt.

Football

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