Sami joins hit parade as in-tune Hoops change the record

RECORDS are there to be broken.

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Gary Hooper showed that he can cut it on the big stage in Moscow
Gary Hooper showed that he can cut it on the big stage in Moscow

It may have taken Celtic longer than they would have wanted to overcome their hoodoo in the Champions League, but the wait will certainly seem worth it.

For the first time in over two decades, Hoops supporters will wake up not pondering what might have been and hoping that the night before had all been a bad dream, but able to celebrate an away victory in Europe's top club competition.

The agony seemed certain to be prolonged once again in Moscow, with even an early lead and the fact that Spartak were reduced to 10 men, Juan Insaurralde seeing red for the hosts after hauling down the superb Gary Hooper as he bore down on goal, not looking like it would be enough to give Celtic that elusive win.

Eight years ago it was John Hartson who wrote his name in Parkhead folklore as he netted in Barcelona to give Celtic their solitary away point in Champions League group stage football. Now, the Welshman will find himself shunted down the pecking order, with Georgios Samaras the Hoops' Euro hero after his moment of magic in Moscow.

It may have taken until the dying seconds of the game for the Greek to hand Neil Lennon perhaps his most significant win as Celtic manager, but it was no smash-and-grab from his men, who went into the match knowing that defeat would see them equal the Spartak miserable record of 12 Champions League losses on the road.

Instead, they retreated to the changing rooms with a spring in their step, a smile on their faces and their place at the top of Group G, temporarily at least, secured.

Before launching his first assault on this competition from the dugout, Lennon had been keen to play down the away record, accumulated over several seasons, that has followed Celtic across the continent in recent years.

It was, he insisted, a statistic that should not bother the current crop of stars he has spent more than two years assembling for nights and occasions such as this.

He has been proved right, with wins in Helsinki and Helsingborgs in the preliminary rounds now topped in the most satisfying fashion as they put Spartak, and a below-par Aiden McGeady, to the sword on their plastic pitch.

Like many of their previous European jaunts, the evening was drifting towards frustrating conclusion, with a vibrant attacking display seemingly undone by all too familiar defensive frailties.

Even after Hooper had given them a lead on 13 minutes, showing terrific awareness and deftness of touch to beat his man and convert Mikael Lustig's cross, the points were far from secured.

Two goals from Emmanuel Emenike within seven minutes of play, either side of the half-time interval, had Celtic on the back foot and it was a problem entirely of their own making.

Firstly, Kelvin Wilson was badly caught out as Ari latched on to Kim Kallstrom's perfectly-weighted pass to set up his partner for the equaliser on 41 minutes before Fraser Forster failed to clear a speculative long-range effort from the hosts' Brazilian forward and Emenike was left unmarked to tap home three minutes after the break.

Attack was to prove the best form of defence for the visitors, with Hooper breaking away from Insaurralde and condemning him to an early bath while Kris Commons and Scott Brown both put in tireless shifts behind the Englishman.

It was substitute James Forrest who would have the biggest impact, however, who arrived perfectly on time as he met Hooper's lay-off seconds after his introduction. His shot ricocheted off keeper Sergei Pesyakov and Dmitri Kombarov and into the net, setting the stage for Samaras to head home Emilio Izaguirre's cross and clinch a last-minute victory.

It was the perfect end to the evening for Lennon and his players but it could be just the start of the adventure as they kept their last-16 dreams alive.

The Hoops will return to Glasgow with the plaudits to accompany the all-important three points but feelings of regret may soon set in.

Not, of course, because of their performance or the result in Moscow, but the fact that the two dropped points at home to Benfica would have had them even in an even more comfortable position if they too had been gathered.

It remains to be seen how costly the 0-0 draw with the Portuguese proves come the final reckoning, in what remains an extremely tough section for Lennon and his men to progress from.

Barcelona now loom large twice in quick succession, but with the biggest monkey of all off their backs, Celtic will surely go into the final four matches with a renewed confidence and vigour.

The Spaniards will prove another step up in class yet the two Catalan tussle's are matches that can now be savoured rather than feared by those at Parkhead.

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