Olivier Ntcham’s dramatic injury-time winner against Lazio at the Stadio Olimpico sent Celtic into the last 32 of the Europa League.
Celtic arrived in Rome at the top of Group E after beating the Italian side last month but amid a shaky start they fell behind in the seventh minute when Ciro Immobile volleyed in a cross from Manuel Lazzari.
Neil Lennon’s side fought back, however, and the winger James Forrest deservedly levelled in the 38th minute with a terrific finish. And in the fifth minute of added time at the end of a thrilling game the midfielder Ntcham, on for Ryan Christie, finished a counterattack to secure the win.
It was Celtic’s first victory in Italy in 13 attempts and kept them top of Group E with a guarantee of European football after Christmas. With two games remaining Celtic have 10 points with Cluj on nine, Lazio on three and Rennes on one.
This was a sporting encounter played against a background of some controversy and acrimony. The Curva Nord section of the ground was closed after Lazio’s fans were found guilty of racist chanting during the 2-1 win against Rennes in October.
Both Lazio and Celtic were charged for fans’ “illicit chants” in their game in Glasgow, with the Scottish champions also sanctioned for “illicit banners”. In addition, two of the 8,000 Celtic supporters who travelled to Rome had been stabbed on Wednesday night and security was tight in and around the stadium.
Jonny Hayes, Hatem Elhamed and Christie returned to the Celtic side which was set up to match Lazio but they were pinned back early before conceding. When Lazzari curled in a cross from deep, the ball skipped off the head of the Celtic defender Christopher Jullien and Immobile, totally unmarked, took no time in thrashing the ball past the goalkeeper Fraser Forster.
Celtic had to come out their shell and they did but in the 20th minute it took a timely tackle from the defender Kris Ajer to thwart Immobile when he was left with only Forster to beat after skipping easily past Elhamed. Then, only a brilliant block by Christie prevented Immobile testing Forster with another effort.
However, Celtic’s foothold in the game became stronger and they went in at half-time level after Francesco Acerbi let Mohamed Elyounoussi’s pass slip under his foot and Forrest rifled in from an angle.
While the travelling fans celebrated, Forster saved a header from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and then was bailed out when he flapped at the consequent corner, with Jullien clearing Felipe Caicedo’s effort off the line.
However, it was Lazio who appeared more grateful to hear the half-time whistle and looked no more composed after the interval as a bullish Celtic side threatened to take the lead. Lazio sent on Luis Alberto and the club captain, Senad Lulic, for Jony and Lucas Leiva but there was little improvement.
There was a Lazio penalty claim in the 66th minute when Immobile’s drive appeared to be blocked by the arm of Jullien but the referee Tobias Stieler took no notice.
Play stretched further in the final stages. A corner from Alberto rebounded off the post before the Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard failed to hit the target with a drive following a counter attack. Forster made decent saves from the substitute Valon Berisha, on for Denis Vavro, and Alberto before Ntcham took a pass from Edouard and chipped the goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha for the most dramatic of endings.