Celtic will be looking to finish off IF Elfsborg in Sweden this evening and reach the Champions League play-offs, but they may have to settle for a share of the spoils at 23/10 after a 1-0 win in the first leg put them in pole position to progress.
The first leg at Parkhead was a turgid affair, with Kris Commons’ 76th minute strike the only goal of a contest marred by vitriolic chanting from sections of the crowd after Elfborg’s decision to play on-loan Hoops forward Mo Bangura turned sour.
The Sierra Leone striker was booed throughout by the Celtic faithful, following comments in the Scottish press from midfielder Joe Ledley that Bangura should not feature in the fixture out of loyalty to his Celtic contract and could not expect to come back to Scotland if he helped knock his parent club out.
Based on Bangura’s performance on the night – and indeed throughout his time in the SPL – Ledley has little to fear on that score, but after losing Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper to the Premier League in recent weeks manager Neil Lennon knows new forwards Amido Balde and Dirk Boerrigter have to settle quickly in order to try and make up for 30-goal Hooper’s Norwich departure.
Wanyama will be even more difficult to replace following his £12m move to Southampton and with little senior back-up for Ledley and Scott Brown in central midfield, Lennon will have to identify cover in the market for the position he excelled in as a player.
With that in mind the draw looks like good value with the betting barely able to split the sides – the away team are slight 29/20 favourites ahead of Elfsborg at 17/10.
While Celtic’s away form in Europe improved markedly last season the victories in Helsinki, Helsingborg and Moscow were Lennon’s first three on the continent since taking over as manager in March 2010, and tonight’s opponents’ 11-1 thrashing of Latvian minnows FC Daugava in the last round suggests they are no slouches.
His team can expect a rambunctious atmosphere at the Boras Arena and with the tie still very much in the balance, former Southampton midfielder and current Elfsborg Captain Anders Svensson will look to frustrate the Scottish Champion’s rebuilding process.