THE Europa League qualifiers were supposed to provide solace for Celtic from the pain of their Champions League qualifying exit. In Riga though, comfort was in short supply, especially for their fans watching back home on jittery streams that would have reflected their nerves before a last-minute goal from substitute Moi Elyounoussi spared Celtic’s blushes.

There were times during the match when it appeared the Celtic players might not have been aware that this was a one-legged affair, such was their relaxed approach to breaking down the stubborn hosts.

But break them down they did, as the excellent Jeremie Frimpong teed up Elyounoussi for the all-important goal as the clock ticked into the 90th minute of a hugely frustrating evening.

It’s not that Celtic were in any real danger of going out, but the performance will again have concerned both their manager and their supporters despite the ultimate victory.

The Europa League may be a second prize by some distance for a club like Celtic, but it is a prize worth pursuing nonetheless, and the strength of Neil Lennon’s team reflected that.

Again, there was some tinkering to the backline, with Nir Bitton coming in for countryman Hatem Elhamed, while James Forrest was restored to the right wing-back position. The headline news though was that star man Odsonne Edouard was in the team, having been rested due to fatigue for the weekend win over Livingston. The only surprise was how ineffective he turned out to be.

His absence had been felt rather more in that Champions League qualifying reverse to Ferencvaros than it had against domestic opposition at the weekend, but it was his presence that was barely felt in Riga. And for all the talk of the differing challenges on the continent, the game here had a familiar feel to it.

Bizarrely, there were two open-top double-decker buses full of local Ultras parked behind the Celtic goal, and it wasn’t long before the hosts parked the bus too, lying deep in a compact shape as the visitors shuttled the ball from side to side in front of them in search of an opening.

For all of that though, Bitton had to come to the rescue as Riga snatched possession and bore down on the Celtic goal with three men against just the Israeli, but he managed a vital interception to prevent the widest of the trio centring for his two teammates in the middle.

There seemed to be a blow for Celtic after half an hour when Forrest was forced off after taking a blow to the leg, with Frimpong entering the fray, but the youngster’s introduction was crucial.

Olivier Ntcham then finally brought the first save from the Riga goalkeeper Robert Ozols with a stinging 30-yarder that he had to tip over the bar. He had to look lively again from the corner, with Shane Duffy customarily proving a handful in the opposition box, keeping the ball alive and teeing up Bitton from 10 yards, but he couldn’t get enough into the shot and Ozols gathered.

Celtic should have had the lead moments later as a delightful exchange between Edouard and Callum McGregor saw the latter scamper into the area, but he decided to look for Frimpong square instead of going for goal himself, and the Riga defence managed to scramble the ball past the post.

Celtic boss Lennon has found plenty of cause to give his men a stern word or two at the interval of late, and he may have given them a little jolt here too. They may have become rather inured to the hairdryer treatment on this evidence though.

That applied as much to Edouard as anyone, who was struggling to muster much of an impact on the game, or indeed, much enthusiasm for the task at hand.

Ryan Christie tried to get things going with a mazy run and shot that was well saved by Ozols, before Edouard finally started to put his body about a bit, shrugging off a couple of challenges before being crowded out.

Christie again drew a save from Ozols from a low free-kick, before his delivery presented a wonderful opportunity for Greg Taylor tucking in from the left, but his diving header soared way over the bar. A case of the wrong man on the end of the right ball.

It was no surprise to see Lennon eventually looking to Albian Ajeti with 20 minutes to go, with Ntcham making way, and how he failed to score just moments after coming on is anyone’s guess. Frimpong did brilliantly down the right before centring, but with Ozols at close quarters, Ajeti couldn’t quite get his body in the right position to guide the ball home, and the ball somehow squirmed into the goalkeeper’s hands.

He repeated the trick as the clock ticked into the last 10 minutes, this time his cross cannoned off a defender and again into Ozols’ grateful grasp.

Amazingly, with Celtic desperately needing a goal and with so little time left, Edouard was removed from the action to be replaced by Elyounoussi. Perhaps tiredness had caught up with him again, but it also spoke volumes for his lack of contribution.

That was highlighted starkly as his replacement answered the call to be Celtic’s hero. Again, Frimpong was the provider, hitting the byline and cutting back for Elyounoussi to steer home with a smart side-foot finish. Job done, just about.