For a time in Armenia yesterday evening it looked like a victory over Alashkert was going to be a real slog.
With the temperature high and the home team determined to keep the Hoops out, it wasn’t until an instinctive Odsonne Edouard finish just before half-time that tension was relieved.
Eventually winning 3-0, the side’s biggest away win in European qualifying under Brendan Rodgers showed that this team is still breaking new ground under the Irishman.
Big wins away from home in Europe are rare for Celtic and aside from a thumping group stage win against Anderlecht last term, Rodgers’ team have rarely impressed on their travels across the continent.
Winning by a three goal margin in qualifying away from home is not a normal thing for the Hoops, it’s only happened twice previously in the last decade, against Icelandic side Stjarnan and Cliftonville.
These occasions are difficult, especially when long flights and humid environments are involved.
Full credit to this team then, who looked bright throughout the 90 minutes, got themselves ahead and then managed the encounter excellently, restricting the home side to a few half chances that Craig Gordon snuffed out.
It means the team now have one foot in the next round and the manager can think about letting some fringe players show what they can do in the second leg in Glasgow. It’d be great to see what the likes of Ryan Christie and and Lewis Morgan could do from the start against the Armenian champions.
With one extra tie to play in qualifying than previous years it’s as tough as ever to reach the group stages of the competition, doing so in three successive seasons would be a magnificent feather in Rodgers’ cap.
No manager has successfully come through the qualification process of the big competition to reach the group stages three seasons in a row. Gordon Strachan led the team to the groups for three years straight, but qualified outright for the last 32 in his final season.
This Rodgers team is all about firsts though and given the way they went about yesterday evening’s Armenian challenge, they look good for another tilt at Europe’s premier competition this autumn.
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