Celtic 5 - 0 Nomme Kalju: Five-star Hoops romp to first-leg victory
Photo: Getty Images/Mark Runnacles)

Celtic swept Nomme Kalju aside at Celtic Park as the Hoops edge ever closer to a place in the 2019/20 Champions League

Goals from Kristoffer Ajer, Leigh Griffiths, Callum McGregor and a Ryan Christie brace helped Celtic to take a giant step forward.

Story of the game

Despite their Estonian visitors already being halfway through their domestic season, Celtic started on the front foot and veteran goalkeeper Pavel Londak had to make a smart save to deny Scott Brown after Griffiths’ had seen his free-kick strike the wall just 20 minutes in.

The Hoops spent a majority of the opening half camped in the Nomme Kalju third of the pitch as the Estonian champions struggled to get a foothold in the game.

Neil Lennon’s side eventually took the lead nine minutes before the interval as Ajer climbed highest to head home a Christie free-kick and bag his second Celtic goal.

Two goals in quick succession right on half-time meant The Bhoys went in three goals to the good at the break after a Christie spot-kick was followed up by a stunning Griffiths goal.

The striker bent a fine effort beyond Londak and into the top corner, this goal no less than he deserved on his return to the starting lineup following a period away from the game.

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The home side started the second 45 how they ended the first as they pushed for more goals in order to kill the tie with Christie, who excelled in his role behind the two strikers, forcing Londak into two more saves early on.

James Forrest then went close to a fourth shortly after the hour mark as he followed up a dangerous run with an effort that was again well saved by former Rosenborg ‘keeper Londak.

A fourth did arrive moments later, though, as Christie curled home from the edge of the box in the 65th minute. The attacking midfielder appeared to be making up for lost time after a series of injuries limited him to just 23 Premiership appearances last term.

The hero of the previous round against FK Sarajevo, McGregor, added a fifth for the Hoops with less than 15 minutes remaining as he collects the ball out wide before drilling a low shot past the despairing Londak, who has prevented the scoreline from being even more embarrassing.

The 50-time Scottish champions saw out the remainder of the game comfortably and will be confident of progression to the third qualifying round ahead of their trip to Tallinn next Tuesday.

Takeaways from the match

Room to rotate in the second leg

With the new Scottish Premiership season starting just four days after next week's second leg, the margin of this scoreline will have pleased Neil Lennon as it allows him to rotate his side before the league match against St. Johnstone.

Christopher Jullien, Marian Shved and Vakoun Issouf Bayo are all still in need of match sharpness and would benefit from a run out in Estonia with the 5-0 aggregate scoreline making for a potentially mellower affair.

Bhoys starting to find cutting edge

One of the main criticisms levelled at Lennon's side after the two-legged victory over FK Sarajevo was that they failed to take their chances, especially in the game at Parkhead.

Once again facing a side that had come to Paradise to defend, however, Celtic showed far greater endeavour and were not limited to shots from in and around the edge of the box as they were last week.

The fact that the five goals were spread amongst four different scorers will also no doubt please the manager.

Man of the match: Ryan Christie

Three separate injuries kept Chrisite out of action for a quarter of last season and limited the midfielder to just 23 league appearances.

In those games, though, he managed to contribute 15 goal involvements and that creative spark was on show on Wednesday as he scored two and assisted another.

Playing behind the strikers, the 24-year-old enjoyed greater freedom than when he is used out wide, dropping into collect the ball, creating chances for his teammates and piercing the back-line with his own runs.

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