JAMES FORREST'S fifth goal in as many games and a stunning Odsonne Edouard free-kick gave Celtic a slight advantage to take into the second leg of this Europa League play-off next week and lifted the mood around Parkhead considerably after two disappointing displays.

But on an evening when Parkhead chief executive Peter Lawwell, manager Neil Lennon and majority shareholder Dermot Desmond were warned not to “sleep at the wheel” in a banner unveiled by disgruntled supporters before kick-off this win gave them no guarantee they won’t crash out of Europe.

The triple treble winners went into this game under considerable pressure following the wretched defeat to CFR Cluj and costly Champions League exit nine days earlier and a nervous extra-time triumph over second tier Dunfermline in the Betfred Cup at the weekend.

Scott Brown and his team mates dealt with it admirably. There was no repeat of the defensive errors which proved their downfall last week and up front they showed greater composure. Boli Bolingoli and Christopher Jullien, the new signings who have struggled to win around fans since arriving this summer, both performed well.


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The Swedish champions, however, did enough during the course of the 90 minutes to suggest this tie is far from over. They will doubtless be a different team in Stockholm in the rematch next Thursday evening. Another goal or two would have put their Scottish counterparts in a far better position.

Hatem Elhamed failed to recover from the hip injury he picked up in training this week and Kristoffer Ajer took his place at right back. That meant Jullien came into the heart of the Celtic rearguard alongside Jozo Simunovic. Elsewhere, Bolingoli kept his place at left back.

It was a big chance for Bolingoli to atone for his woeful display against Cluj away. His early involvement was far from encouraging. He gave the ball straight to veteran AIK midfielder Sebastian Larsson in the centre of the park twice. He did, though, do well to tee up Mikey Johnston for a shot soon after those lapses in concentration. The winger saw his attempt deflected narrowly wide for a corner.

Lennon had been keen for his team to stamp their authority on the game from the start and play at a far higher tempo than they had nine days earlier. But that proved difficult against opponents who, despite lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, sat deep and showed little desire to venture forward and snatch an away goal.

Slowly but surely, though, Celtic started to open up the visitors’ backline. The pace and trickery of Johnston, Ryan Christie and Forrest caused their opponents all kinds of problems. A goal seemed inevitable.


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Jullien and Edouard both forced saves from AIK goalkeeper Oscar Linner and they had two penalty claims for handball turned down by Hungarian match official Tamas Bognar. But they failed to capitalise on their superior possession and the opportunities they created in the final third.

Trouble flared off the park as police waded in to the away support and also arrested and led away a couple of home supporters. Tensions were running high on the pitch too. AIK right back Robert Lundstrom squared up to Bolingoli after his rival went to ground in his area rather to easily for his liking. He was scythed down by the same player moments later and the referee immediately showed his first yellow card of the evening for the offence.

AIK, who had been compact and organised throughout the opening 45 minutes, were by far the happier of the two teams as they walked off the park at half-time. But Celtic were celebrating just three minutes after play resumed when they finally took the lead in a move instigated by the much-maligned Bolingoli.

He received the ball from Gordon deep inside his own half and made a powerful run upfield before squaring to Edouard. The striker stepped over the pass and left back Rasmus Kindkvist should really have cleared to safety. But he failed to do so and Forrest gratefully accepted an unexpected gift. Linner got a hand to his shot but was unable to keep it out of his net.

Edouard increased Celtic’s advantage in the 73rd minute after Johnston had been brought down on the edge of the AIK penalty box. The French striker, who was once again outstanding up front by himself, stepped up and sent his dipping dead ball delivery over the defensive wall and into the top right corner of the net.


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Linner produced what could still prove a vital triple save shortly after. He denied Olivier Ntcham, who had replaced Forrest, Edouard and Lewis Morgan, who had just come on for Johnston, in quick succession to keep AIK just two goals behind.

His opposite number Craig Gordon had a point to prove even before Fraser Forster, the former England keeper who has fallen out of favour at Southampton, returned to Parkhead on a season-long loan deal yesterday having spent the majority of this year either on the treatment table or the replacements’ bench.

Gordon did well to clear a Simunovic passback under pressure from Henok Gollum in the first-half. He also collected a header by Nabil Bahoui in the second. A game against a side who were clearly intent on damage limitation was never going to allow him to showcase his talents greatly. That said, the clean sheet he kept could prove invaluable.