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Rodgers thrilled with O’Connell display

Boss Brendan Rodgers praised Celtic’s resilience after they came back to draw 1-1 in the away leg of their Champions League qualifier against Astana.

Leigh Griffiths scored late on for the Scottish champions, who host their Kazakh counterparts next Wednesday.

“It was an outstanding result,” said former Liverpool manager Rodgers.

“We’re disappointed with the goal but I think after that we showed wonderful mentality to keep fighting. It’s a very important result for us.”

With several central defenders missing, the visitors played with a back three, with 20-year-old Eoghan O’Connell making his European debut.

Yuri Logvinenko headed Astana in front and Craig Gordon made several good saves before Griffiths made Celtic’s only shot on target count.

“I think we were all written off before the game,” added Rodgers.

“Everyone was pretty clear in their opinion of the game, that we would do well to come back with anything other than a loss, but the players deserve an immense amount of credit, to fight and show spirit and passion in the game.

“The resilience and strength that we have built up over the course of the pre-season came into effect.”

‘Wonderful goal’

Celtic’s goal came 12 minutes from time and followed good work from Patrick Roberts.

Griffiths had been starved of service for most of the match but needed just one touch before smashing home a powerful shot.

Griffiths scored what could be a vital away goal for Celtic

“It’s a wonderful goal from Leigh and we know the significance of the goal,” said Rodgers.

“We’re not getting too carried away; we’ve got another game against a very good side.”

O’Connell lost Logvinenko from a corner for the hosts’ opener on 19 minutes, but Rodgers praised the young defender.

“I thought he was outstanding,” he said. “For a young player, he has been on the fringes for a few years, coming into that environment, under pressure, he had very few mistakes in the game.

“You would expect him to make some as a young player but he coped in a very difficult situation.”

On the poor marking for the Astana goal, Rodgers added: “I think there has been an issue there with set-pieces, long before I came in.

“Over the course of the pre-season, we defended them well in the main but it is an element that we have to be better at and it is something we will reiterate to the players.

“They had to cope with a long ball, they were quite direct at times and a high percentage of times we dealt quite well with it but we need to ensure that our concentration is 100%.”

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Jul 272016
John Stones joined Everton from Barnsley for £3m in January 2013

Manchester City are in talks with Everton over the possible signing of England defender John Stones.

A deal is yet to be agreed but it is thought the two Premier League clubs are not far apart in their valuations.

It is thought City will pay about £50m to sign the 22-year-old former Barnsley player, who came close to joining Chelsea last summer.

Stones was part of the England squad at Euro 2016 but did not feature as they were knocked out in the last 16.

He made his debut for Barnsley in March 2012, 10 months before joining Everton for £3m.

City boss Pep Guardiola has identified the Yorkshireman as the kind of central defender who fits his approach to the game.

“Normally central defenders are strong in the air and aggressive,” said Guardiola on Wednesday.

“But we need to have a good build-up to create easy passes in the midfield so they can create good passes for the strikers. I believe when the ball goes from the central defender to the striker as quickly as possible, it comes as quickly as possible back.

“That is why the players in that area need quality. By 31 August we will have the right squad to play how we want.”

Guardiola used midfielders Javier Mascherano and Javi Martinez as central defenders while managing Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively.

And the Spaniard has identified a City midfielder who could step into the back four if required.

“Fernandinho can play in 10 positions,” he said.

“He is quick, fast, intelligent, aggressive. He is strong in the air and has the quality to play good build-up, can go right or left and can pass long.”

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Jul 272016
Celtic take a valuable away goal back to Glasgow

Celtic emerged from a testing visit to Astana in which they were largely second best with a commendable draw.

Looking to reach the Champions League group stage for the first time since 2013, they found the Kazakhs tough opposition.

In Brendan Rodgers’ third competitive game in charge, they fell behind to a Yuri Logvinenko header.

But after heavy Astana pressure, Leigh Griffiths struck a potentially crucial away goal on 78 minutes.

Griffiths had scarcely been involved in the match, his partnership with Moussa Dembele failing to gel.

But the striker, whose 40 goals last year earned him multiple awards and medals, showed his worth with a fantastic equaliser.

Patrick Roberts, Celtic’s brightest player on the night, won possession near the byeline and picked out Griffiths inside the penalty area.

With barely a glance up, Griffiths rifled the ball past Nenad Eric to change the complexion of the tie.

Such an outcome had looked unlikely as a makeshift Celtic defence had to deal with a barrage of Astana chances.

With Erik Sviatchenko added to an already extensive list of injured defenders, Rodgers brought in 20-year-old Eoghan O’Connell for his European debut and Efe Ambrose was reintroduced to a three-man backline alongside Mikael Lustig.

Ambrose was fortunate not to see a lapse of concentration punished as he missed a Patrick Twumasi cross altogether, with Junior Kabananga inches away from connecting and Mikael Lustig nervously knocking the ball clear.

Gordon kept Astana at bay before Griffiths found the equaliser

But from the 19th-minute corner, O’Connell was left for dead by Logvinenk, who headed unchallenged into the net.

Although there were several further scares for the small travelling support, the majority of Astana’s opportunities came from distance, with Craig Gordon looking assured.

As they often have, Celtic had their goalkeeper to thank for keeping the deficit to just one goal until Griffiths’ leveller.

The Scotland international again produced save after save to help ensure Celtic are in the driving seat going into next week’s second leg.

He somehow clawed away an awkward Azat Nurgaliyev chip after another Ambrose error, parried a ferocious 40-yard Twumasi drive, touched a dipping Nurgaliyev shot on to the crossbar and kept out a Kabananga effort with his legs.

Those interventions could prove vital as Celtic aim for a win in Glasgow next week to reach the Champions League play-off stage.

Live Text

Match ends, FC Astana 1, Celtic 1.

Second Half ends, FC Astana 1, Celtic 1.

Scott Brown (Celtic) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Agim Ibraimi (FC Astana) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Substitution, FC Astana. Djorde Despotovic replaces Junior Kabananga.

Substitution, FC Astana. Agim Ibraimi replaces Abzal Beysebekov.

Goal! FC Astana 1, Celtic 1. Leigh Griffiths (Celtic) right footed shot from the right side of the box to the top left corner. Assisted by Patrick Roberts.

Substitution, Celtic. Tomas Rogic replaces Callum McGregor.

Leigh Griffiths (Celtic) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Substitution, Celtic. James Forrest replaces Stuart Armstrong.

Substitution, Celtic. Nir Bitton replaces Moussa Dembele.

Substitution, FC Astana. Serikzhan Muzhikov replaces Azat Nurgaliev.

Second Half begins FC Astana 1, Celtic 0.

First Half ends, FC Astana 1, Celtic 0.

Azat Nurgaliev (FC Astana) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.

Goal! FC Astana 1, Celtic 0. Yuri Logvinenko (FC Astana) header from the centre of the box to the high centre of the goal. Assisted by Patrick Twumasi following a corner.

First Half begins.

Lineups are announced and players are warming up.

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