After 89 minutes of Riga mortis a last minute strike from substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi spared Celtic an untimely demise in the Europa League.
Yet an uninspiring display against dogged, but mediocre, Latvian opponents ended with the real kiss of life being delivered by Jeremie Frimpong.
When James Forrest limped from the playing surface of the Skonto Stadium after 34 minutes it felt like an ominous sign for Scotland’s champions. It probably proved their salvation in the end.
Mohamed Elyounoussi bailed Celtic out against FC Riga by hitting a last-gasp winner
A direct replacement Frimpong dragged the Parkhead side kicking and screaming into next Thursday’s one legged play-off.
Just watching the teenager was an exhausting business at times. Despite soaring temperatures in the Latvian capital his pace and direct running teed up a calm sidefooted finish for Elyounoussi from 12 yards to win the game as extra time beckoned. With sharper finishing, he would have bagged the two or three assists his all-round play deserved.
Celtic had to settle for one goal in the end. And they were hugely glad of that after another insipid 90 minutes.
When things don’t go right for Odsonne Edouard people are quick to study his body language and there was plenty of that going on after an off-night for the Frenchman. It might be form, it might be fitness, it might be the speculation over his future. Whatever it was the striker wasn’t alone. Frimpong and Elyounnoussi the only players in green and white shirts to cover themselves in glory.
‘Odsonne looked fresh enough in training,’ said Neil Lennon. ‘But tonight he looked a little bit off the pace.
Jeremie Frimpong put in an energetic display and was a constant threat to the Latvian side
‘Maybe he just needed a run-out to get him up to speed. We’ll see how he is for the weekend.
‘He’s fine, there are no injury issues with him at all.’
FC RIGA: Ozols; Petersons, Stuglis, Prenga, Rugins, Nata Wachholz (Brisola 71), Panic, Rodrigues Figueira, Djurisic, Debelko (Milosevic 67), Kamess.
Subs: Bezerra, Sharpar, Purins, Hora, Cernomordiis, N’Kololo
CELTIC (3-6-1): Barkas; Bitton, Duffy, Ajer; Taylor, Brown, McGregor, Ntcham (Ajeti 72), Forrest (Frimpong 34), Christie;Edouard
Subs: Klimala, Turnbull, Elyounoussi, Bain, Frimpong, Elhamed
For Celtic Latvian opposition in Europe was a first and an experience they won’t be keen to repeat. Nineteen games into their domestic campaign Riga’s newest and biggest club sit top of their domestic league. Knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by Maccabi Tel Aviv, a 1-0 win over San Marino’s Tre Fiori was never likely to scare the horses.
Only formed six years ago, however, they had never lost at home in six European ties and you could see why.
Stuffy, organised and hard to break down Neil Lennon’s pre-match concern was justified in the end.
Celtic dominated possession despite the home side being cheered by some determined locals watching from two open top buses parked at one end of the 8000 capacity Skonto Stadium. Doing much with it proved the hard part.
For the Parkhead side it felt, at times, like a Premiership game in Scotland. The grey shirted home players camped deep in their own half inviting the visitors to break them down, pressing high and making a nuisance of themselves – their cause aided by laboured, pedestrian build-up play from the visitors. Despite starting as they meant to go on Lennon’s side threatened just once in the opening half hour – when Edouard’s fine first touch from a Taylor cut-back was snuffed out by Prenga.
The arrival of Frimpong stretched the hosts in a way no one else could. Celtic only became a threat when he arrived and it wasn’t a coincidence.
A dipping 25 yard strike from Olivier Ntcham gave keeper Robert Ozils his first save of the night. A better chance still fell to Nir Bitton in the area moments later when Shane Duffy knocked down a probing Ryan Christie cross.The Israeli tried to place his shot when he needed to put his laces through it, Ozils falling gratefully on the ball. Celtic should have have scored.
It was a rare off-night for Celtic’s usually reliable striker Odsonne Edouard on Thursday
Before half-time Callum McGregor found some rare space in behind a packed defence to race on to an Edouard through ball. With Ozils coming to meet him, the Scotland midfielder tried to square for Frimpong at the back post when a shot might have been the better option. Riga hacked the ball clear and made it to half-time with the game goallless.
Celtic had seen a lot of the ball. They had done precious little with it. Despite four central midfielders in the team there was precious little creativity or spark. When there was Edouard didn’t look anything like the player he can be. The ball went from side to side and back to front, with little or no indication that anyone had much idea how to make it count.
It took 15 minutes for the Parkhead side to pose a threat in the second half. Ryan Christie was the architect of a fine chanc, tucking inside to craft the chance for a left foot strike at goal. Once again, it needed power rather than placement, Ozils producing a comfortable low save.
Christie then cast a probing cross deep into the area to pick out Greg Taylor’s run. The left-back isn’t a natural goalscorer and a header soared over the crossbar from 12 yards.
Celtic’s Ryan Christie lets an attempt fly on goal but can’t beat the FC Riga goalkeeper
Taylor is a decent full-back, but there really is no evidence he’s a natural left wing-back. Despite Neil Lennon’s switch to a 3-5-2 it’s not clear he has the personnel to really make it work. And with 18 minutes to play, the prospect of extra-time began to look menacingly real.
The arrival of Albian Ajeti as a second striker signalled a desire to win it in normal time and almost paid instant dividends.
The one shaft of attacking light for Celtic was Frimpong, the Dutchman producing a brilliant piece of darting wing-play to cut the ball into the path of the Swiss substitute six yards from goal. The ball catching under Ajeti’s feet seemed to sum up Celtic’s night. Almost nothing was going right in front of goal.
Undeterred Frimpong had another go, another outstanding run ending in a driven cross turned into the arms of the keeper by Petersen with Edouard lurking at the back post. The Frenchman limped from the field a disconsolate figure moments later to be replaced by Mohammed Elyounnoussi.
A winger to trade the Norwegian went into a front two and the move paid off in style when Frimpong proved that the best things come in threes when his driven cut-back was swept into the net by his fellow substitute to Celtic relief.
Neil Lennon looked like a relieved man at the final whistle after Celtic sneaked through