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Celtic 2 Steaua Bucharest 1: Bangura gives himself a ray of light on the Costa del Sol

THE value of friendly matches was underlined last night when Mo Bangura chose the rustic setting of the San Pedro Stadium on the outskirts of Marbella to finally score his first goal for Celtic.

Mo Bangura, left, beats Steaua's Iasmin Latovlevici to the ball to put Celtic ahead. Picture: SNS
Mo Bangura, left, beats Steaua's Iasmin Latovlevici to the ball to put Celtic ahead. Picture: SNS

The game against Steaua Bucharest also afforded the Clydesdale Bank Premier League champions the chance to give Anthony Stokes his first run out, as a substitute, since injuring an ankle in August.

However, the happiest man in the squad that will fly home to Glasgow today is Bangura, who was playing his first game since returning from a five-month loan spell AIK, the Swedish club who sold him to the Parkhead club for £2.2m 18 months ago.

The Sierra Leone striker has endured a torrid time at Celtic, but the manner in which he twisted to get his head to a Kris Commons cross and direct his effort beyond the Steaua goalkeeper indicated why manager Neil Lennon has stuck by him.

Bangura's smile was as wide as many of his previous shots as he said: "I'm just so happy to score – I want to thank my team-mates. I've had a lot of bad luck with injuries and it's been been difficult for me. I had to go on loan to get more playing time but that has been good for me.

"I always believed I would score for Celtic. When I start scoring, I know I can go with the flow. It gives me the confidence to keep going.

"I only went to Stockholm to come back here a better player. Now I hope to play a bigger part in the remainder of the season. Hopefully, the manager saw the game on television. I came with a big price tag and, if I'm given opportunities, I will try to justify that."

Johan Mjallby, the assistant, intends to give a positive report on Bangura's 90 minutes when he speaks to Lennon, who is at a manager's seminar in England.

"I think he needed that boost," said the Swede. "The cross was a little bit behind him and it was a great finish.Even as a right winger, when we changed the formation to suit everyone, he did well.

"Maybe it's been hard on him with the high price tag, and it didn't really work out for him when he came here at first, which made his confidence quite low. As a striker, you live off goals, so it looks as though he has managed to get some confidence back in his loan spell at AIK."

Stokes is another striker whose future at the club has been the subject of speculation, and this was considered possibly the first step in his return to favour.

It was not the sternest test he or any of his team-mates will face, but the pace, power and poise of the Romanians did ensure the work-out required to conclude their week-long training camp on the Costa del Sol was provided.

Steaua adapted better to the hard, bumpy pitch, and it was from one of their quick breaks that they took the lead after 13 minutes, Stefan Nikolici shooting powerfully past Lukasz Zaluska from just inside the penalty area.

By then, the local referee had taken the name of Kelvin Wilson, his crime to take a free kick before the whistle had sounded.

Had the same official noted the systematic niggling of Victor Wanyama by a suc-cession of Steaua players, apparently intent on goading the Kenyan, the Celtic party would have been more impressed.

In an expected raft of changes in the second half Georgios Samaras, Charlie Mulgrew, Scott Brown, Commons, Lassad Nouioui, Stokes all got the chance to have a run out in the chilly night air.

Within five minutes of the restart, Samaras had equalised. Emilio Izaguirre drove the ball across the six-yard box, Dylan McGeouch returned it with interest from beyond the back post, and the Greek striker had a simple task of knocking the ball into the net from close range.

Bangura got off the mark three minutes later, but it still required a couple of excellent saves by Lukasz Zaluska to ensure it was a winning goal.

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