Celtic 1 Zenit 0: McGregor secures deserved first-leg lead

Callum McGregor's 78th-minute strike handed Celtic a potentially crucial lead to take to Zenit for their Europa League second leg.

Callum McGregor scores for Celtic   -  Getty Images

Celtic will take a 1-0 lead to Saint Petersburg in their Europa League round-of-32 tie with Zenit after Callum McGregor netted a first-leg winner.

Substitute Charly Musonda centred for McGregor to slam a finish into the top-left corner and lift the roof off Parkhead with just 12 minutes remaining and Roberto Mancini's visitors seemingly content with a hard-earned draw.

Zenit's only previous meeting with Scottish opposition had seen their dominant 2008 side defeat Rangers in the UEFA Cup final, but Celtic fared rather better than their rivals 10 years on and deserved a goal long before it finally arrived.

Although a rusty Russian defence - out of competitive action for over two months prior to the game - struggled to contain Brendan Rodgers' men from the off, the lack of a killer ball in the final third looked set to hinder the hosts until Musonda's introduction.

The Chelsea loanee turned the game and McGregor's brilliant strike earned Celtic a deserved lead ahead of the long-haul return trip.

Rodgers' team selection hinted at a cautious approach, with Musonda and Scott Sinclair left on the bench, but the Celtic Park crowd roared the hosts on in the opening minutes and Olivier Ntcham poked a low effort agonisingly wide of the left-hand post.

McGregor wasted an opportunity, too, shooting into the arms of Andrey Lunev, before the competition's most prolific attack fired a warning shot at the other end.

Debutant Anton Zabolotny's cute finish was blocked well by stand-in Celtic goalkeeper Dorus de Vries, who was grateful to see Kieran Tierney covering on the line to clear Aleksandr Erokhin's headed follow-up.

The first half kept up a breathless pace, but Celtic could not turn a spell of extended pressure into a goal before the break.

The home side gradually took control again following the restart and Lunev parried Eboue Kouassi's 25-yard drive just after the hour-mark, while Mancini shuffled the Zenit pack as his usually razor-sharp front line continued to look blunt.

Celtic themselves started to wane in their attacking efforts, though, with their appeals for fouls becoming ever more desperate as Ntcham's wretched set-piece deliveries failed to improve.

But Musonda replaced Kouassi with 17 minutes remaining and made an immediate impact, lifting the crowd before crossing for McGregor to control on his chest and shoot instinctively beyond Lunev.

Zenit suddenly rediscovered their previously absent attacking intent, but they could not force an away goal and must now look to turn the tie on its head on home turf.



- Celtic have earned their first win in the Europa League in 12 games, having lost six and drawn five of their previous 11.
- In fact, this is Celtic’s first win at the knockout stage of any European competition since they beat Barcelona 1-0 in March 2004, courtesy of a goal from Alan Thompson (excl. playoffs).
- Zenit Saint Petersburg have suffered their first defeat in eight games in the Europa League, having won six and drawn one of their previous seven.
- Celtic have now won four games on the bounce against Russian opposition in European fixtures, having failed to win any of their previous three such games (D2 L1).

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