HISTORY demanded that it would almost certainly be a retreat from Moscow.

Celtic, however, shrugged off their awful European record in the Champions League to win deservedly and with some style in the Luzhniki Stadium.

The key to the victory was in attack. This was no desperate rearguard action but a triumph built on the pillars of three goals. The defensive resilience shown in the qualifying campaign in Helsingborg and Helsinki may have deserted Celtic but they could afford to lose two goals and win three points. This is an extraordinary occurrence on the road.

The key to the scoring of three goals and the creation of a series of other chances was the ambition of Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, the brilliance of Gary Hooper, the English striker, and the inspired contributions at crucial moments from James Forrest, Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras. The 21-year-old Scot forced the equaliser at 2-2 when his shot ricocheted off Dmitri Kombarov and the winner was headed home majestically by the Greek after a cross by the Honduran full-back.

It was a deeply satisfying night for the manager, who has now led his team to three successive victories in away games in Europe. He set his team out with the proper mixture of defensive caution and aggressive offence. Charlie Mulgrew and Victor Wanyama were picked to supply the double-lock in front the back four while the midfield was full of the promise of a goal in Samaras, Kris Commons and Scott Brown, who scurried forward to help the lone striker of Gary Hooper.

The former Scunthorpe United player was the outstanding player of the night. His role as point man demands touch, movement and an endless capacity to run in hope rather than expectation. It is a position that can frustrate and confound the most sublime of players but the 24-year-old Englishman had an evening of wonderful achievement, marred only by a rashness when he stepped offside to head a Samaras cross home in the first half.

If he had held his position, Hooper would have given his side a two-goal lead but his lurch offside was offset by significant contributions to his team's victories. Most obviously, these were the smart finish that gave the perfect accompaniment to a fine cross by Mikael Lustig and his touch, twist, turn and lay-off that provided Forrest the glimpse of goal that led to the equaliser.

Hooper was also the victim of the trip by Juan Insaurralde which led to the Spartak Moscow defender being sent off as Celtic sought an equaliser. Lennon's side profited from that advantage to such a degree that a victory was not only due reward but almost inevitable, particularly given Hooper's propensity for finding space and for disconcerting defenders.

Lennon's championing of his forward has been constant. The Celtic scouting department has rightly been praised for uncovering talents such as Wanyama, Biram Kayal and Ki Sung-Yueng, the last sold at a considerable profit. But Hooper has always been Lennon's Bhoy. He scouted him, wooed and eventually signed him. Curiously, he also retained him during the summer transfer window.

The feeling had always been that Ki would go to England with both player and club amenable to that development. It seemed likely that Hooper also would depart, most probably to Southampton. Yet he remained and Celtic have profited in spectacular style. The victory last night was worth €1m in prize money and could lead to European football for the club after Christmas.

After last night's results, Celtic sit in the second qualifying place for the knockout stages. They have also gained a strong advantage over Spartak in any fight for a third place that offers the substantial consolation of Europa League football.

It would be absurd to suggest that this enviable position was gained on the back solely of Hooper's efforts but the forward led from the front in every aspect. He was ably complemented by the erratic Samaras, the Greek who finds positions of such hopelessness that not even the EU could bail him out, and the speedy and direct Forrest who always makes at least one significant contribution, no matter his form. The Greek was garlanded with the winner and the young Scot was instrumental in the equaliser.

The contribution of Hooper, though, will longer long in the mind of Lennon and, almost certainly, a growing band of suitors.