CELTIC motored in to the last 32 of the Europa League with a terrific win away to Lazio. But what else did we learn from an incredible contest at the Stadio Olimpico?

LIGHTNING SOMETIMES DOES STRIKE TWICE

Celtic had stunned Lazio in the first game in Glasgow by recovering from going behind to win with an injury-time strike. There was little expectation on them to repeat that trick as they travelled to Rome to face the in-form Italians. And yet the match unfolded once more in very similar fashion.

Manager Neil Lennon would have feared the worst when his side fell behind as early as the seventh minute. But once Celtic had drawn level through James Forrest they regained their composure and gradually grew in confidence.

They looked the better side for periods of the second half before the home side came back at them, pushing for a late winner. Celtic would undoubtedly have taken a draw at that point but, presented with a 94th-minute chance on the counter, Olivier Ntcham proved clinical.

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Some people may dismiss that as good fortune but teams who are fit, well-drilled and determined seem to get these late opportunities more than others who aren’t.

THE ITALIAN JOB

The victory not only extended Celtic’s undefeated record on the road in Europe this season but it also smashed, at the 13th time of asking, their record of never having won in Italy.

After three draws and nine defeats there weren’t many who would have envisioned them ending that hoodoo in Rome. But Lennon’s men showed terrific persistence to keep going and got their belated reward. The monkey is off their back.

FORREST (ON) FIRE

Forrest again enhanced his reputation on the highest level with a fifth European goal of the season. Celtic hadn’t created a single opportunity of note when Mohamed Elyounoussi fed a ball out to the winger late in the first half.

It was a half-chance at best but Forrest created the room before unleashing a shot that flew past the Lazio goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net from a tight angle. At this level of football and in arenas such as this, chances tend to be at a premium and need to be taken.

Forrest’s clinical finish drew his side level and imbued Celtic with confidence to take in to the second half, eventually leading to the late winner.

His new deal in theory should see him see out his career as a one-club man but there must be teams in England and in Europe taking note of his prowess and wondering just what he might be able to do for them.

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THREE AT THE BACK

Lennon chose to match up directly with Lazio by switching to a three-man defence. That meant only a second start of the season for Jonny Hayes on the left, with Forrest asked to add a defensive element to his usual wing play on the right.

Lennon said it would operate as a 3-4-3 formation but with Lazio pushing Celtic back for long spells of the first half it took the shape of a 3-5-1-1 or even a 3-6-1. This was a system designed to thwart and frustrate the Italians but the loss of an early goal laid bare Celtic’s unfamiliarity with the shape.

With the three defenders drawn centrally, there seemed to be no one free to pick up Ciro Immobile at the back post and the in-form striker finished with  aplomb for Lazio’s opener. Had Forrest shown greater awareness of the situation – or had Celtic deployed a traditional full-back – then there’s a decent chance the goal could have been avoided.

Lennon, though, stuck with the unaccustomed shape and would have taken great heart at the way his backline gradually grew more comfortable with it the longer the game wore on.

ANOTHER UEFA SANCTION ON ITS WAY

Celtic will find out on November 21 the outcome of their third UEFA charge of the season relating to illicit banners and chants in the home game against Lazio. They have already been fined £10,000 for letting off flares against Cluj and £11,000 for letting off smoke bombs and throwing objects on to the field against AIK.

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A fourth charge now looks likely. A number of flares were set off prior to kick-off last night from the section hosting the 8000 or so travelling supporters.

UEFA’s sense of priorities often seems skewed – clamping down on fairly minor offences while turning a blind eye to more serious matters – but Celtic and their fans know the rules. They can have no complaints if another charge comes their way in the coming days.

ends