Celtic 8

Fk Sudova 1

Scorers: Celtic - Larsson (16, 24, 29), Petrov (27), Sutton (35), Lambert (50), Hartson (72), Valgaeren (82);

FK Sudova - Radinevicius (90)

YOU could say it was Bhoys against boys, a contest that was the mismatch of this or any other season. Still, this being a week when our other European candidates found victory beyond them, we should be grateful for small mercies. If only Celtic could have lent the others a score or two.

Even better, would that they could have loaned out Henrik Larsson. The Swedish striker was in simply scintillating form, leaving aside his goals. His movement, control, and positional sense were of a very high class and all of these attributes are special, no matter the opposition.

As it was, he was up against a Lithuanian defence who perhaps had never been faced with such virtuosity. Trouble was they

tended to admire it, rather than try to thwart it.

Henrik, who had been enduring what had been called a scoring crisis, did manage, therefore, to come up with a rather emphatic response. In fact, his hat trick hoisted him level with Ally McCoist's 21-goal European record total.

He had collected all of them inside half an hour, by which time Celtic were four up, Stilian Petrov having scored a goal-of-the-season contender. Larsson was substituted after an hour and will need to wait a wee while to set a new record, probably in a fortnight if the Lithuanians turn up for the second leg.

When Chris Sutton made it five before the interval, the 36,824 on site were beginning to wonder if a result comparable with the club's record European total, 9-0 over Kokkola in 1970, was to be achieved. They came very close and could easily have notched double figures but, hey, in times like these, let's not be greedy. But it would also be foolish to get cocky about a win over a part-time side who really were well out of their depth.

Still, as manager Martin O'Neill said, a win of this dimension is bound to have lifted confidence at Parkhead where the side has been short of top form to date this season.

They won't meet a team as weak as Suduva again, not even in our much maligned Premierleague, of course, but they will surely be able to rest key players in the second leg which precedes the first Old Firm game of the season. Larsson, with the record in sight, probably won't be one of them.

The fates being the way they are, the talk of a Henrik scoring crisis inevitably meant he would pop the ball into the net early on. Which he did, not to the surprise of those cautious folk, the bookmakers, who had made him a mere 2-1 against to open the scoring.

Even by then, the 16th minute, it had been very much shooting-in for the home side as the Lithuanians pursued a strategy perhaps not dissimilar to that of the Alamo defenders. They were to suffer the wrath of Henrik, not to mention a few others.

As the waves of Celtic attacks continued to roll over Suduva's 18-yard line, it became very clear that damage limitation was the name of the game for the visitors. In fact, Celtic could have been two or three in front before the bold Henrik made the first strike.

The chances were plentiful. Neil Lennon had a shot held, a Bobo Balde header was cleared off the line, and Larsson himself beat three men before watching a well-struck shot being touched away for a corner.

But these moments were merely the warm-up for the great man. His first goal was the climax of a fine move, begun by Joos Valgaeren, whose pass to Momo Sylla was delivered low and hard across goal, where Larsson encouraged it into the net.

Eight more minutes of almost constant pressure went by before the striker hit his second, This time he rose to head a free kick by Steve Guppy firmly over the line.

They were fine goals but the best was yet to come. Sutton provided the knee-high cross which was met so sweetly on the volley on the 18-yard line by Petrov that it flashed past the keeper before he was aware it had been hit.

Then it was back to King Henrik, who, fed by Sutton, delicately chipped the ball over the keeper and, although Devetinas seemed to clear it on the line, the referee judged it to be a goal. Sutton himself added No.5 when he slid in to send home a cross from Guppy, nudged on by Larsson.

Among this mayhem there had been the odd dart upfield by the part-timers but they were very much bit-players in this dreadfully one-sided play.

The only interest left in the second half was how many more Celtic would score and would Larsson beat McCoist's record? The pattern had not changed and Suduva were soon back in total defence mode. They lost a sixth goal four minutes after the break when the keeper failed to hold a Larsson free kick and Paul Lambert jumped to nod the ball home. Celtic then threw on the substitutes but, unwittingly, denied Larsson the chance to beat McCoist's target. He, Laursen, and Lennon went off to be replaced by Hartson, Crainey, and Fernandez.

The chances continued to be made and Hartson, after seeing his header come off the bar, was even more unfortunate when he jinked between defenders and cutely chipped the ball over the keeper only to see that, too, come off the bar. The Welshman did get his due in 72 minutes, however when he slid the ball past a brave but beleaguered Padihanskas to make it seven. There was more. No.8 came along in 82 minutes when Valgaeren headed into the net after Hartson had chipped the ball into the middle.

But there was a sting in the tail. Well, maybe not. Suduva scored. Tomas Radinevicius took advantage of a poor pass by keeper Rab Douglas to grab a goal. Good on him.

Celtic (3-5-2) Douglas; Balde, Valgaeren, Laursen (Hartson 60); Sylla, Lambert, Lennon (Fernandez 60), Petrov, Guppy; Sutton, Larsson (Crainey 60). Subs: Gould, McNamara, Thompson, Agathe Booked Laursen

FC Sudova (4-4-2) Padihanskas; Kunevieius, Sendzikas, Grigas, Devetinas; Zitinskas (Stankevicius 80) , Suliauskas, Adomaitis (Kraipavicius 75), Sidlauskas (Haciulis 45); Slavickas, Radinevicius. Subs: Balnys, Klevinskas, Rukavicius, Larcenka Booked Sidlauskas, Suilauskas, Padimanskas.

Referee Miroslav Liva (Cze)

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