Georgios Samaras headed home a dramatic winner as Celtic's 3-2 win at Spartak Moscow ended a 26-year wait for a Champions League away win.
The Greek forward deftly headed the winner beyond Sergei Pesiakov in the 90th minute to prevent the Bhoys from levelling Spartak's own record for consecutive away defeats in Europe.
The hosts recovered from Gary Hooper's opener to lead through a brace from Emmanuel Emenike either side of half-time, but lost defender Juan Insaurralde in the 63rd minute after he brought down a goal-bound Hooper.
Substitute James Forrest made an instant impact, helping the visitors restore parity via an unwitting Dmitri Kombarov, before Samaras finally gave the travelling Glasgow contingent a result to savour.
Spartak spent the early stages of the contest in full control of the ball, but countless deliveries into the Celtic box from Dmitri Kombarov, Kim Kallstrom and former Hoop Aiden McGeady were unable to find fellow red shirts.
Adding further to the hosts’ frustrations was the opening goal on 12 minutes, coming at the opposite end of the pitch in the Scottish champions’ first meaningful attack of the game.
Victor Wanyama set Mikael Lustig free on the right wing after doing well to win possession, and with the home defence virtually camped on the halfway line with the Russians constantly attacking, the opening on the counter was there for Hooper to neatly finish the Swede’s excellent low centre.
Unai Emery’s side failed to learn from their mistakes and the Bhoys could have snatched a second on a number of occasions: first, when Kris Commons was denied a chance at goal from inside the box by Insaurralde’s superb sliding challenge, and then when Hooper had a headed goal wiped out for offside.
But the Russian top flight runners-up added some sharpness to their attacking play as the first period came to a close.
The pressure they exerted almost came to bear when Nicolas Pareja’s 20-yard free-kick forced a fine parry from Fraser Forster with five minutes left in the half, but the equaliser arrived 60 seconds later as Kallstrom’s fine raking pass into the danger zone was cleverly volleyed low and square by Ari into the path of Emenike for a simple finish.
The same player delivered a further kick in the teeth for Celtic shortly after the break as the Nigerian converted from close range again after Ari’s speculative drive was spilled by Forster and Demy de Zeeuw teed up an easy tap-in.
Spartak began to slow the game down in hopes of breaking the Celtic spirit but the search for another goal continued from the away side, and when Hooper latched onto Samaras’ through pass only to be clipped by Insaurralde, suddenly the home team had to hold on with one man less.
The introduction of Forrest was when the Hoops really came to life, and the 21-year-old wasted little time making an impact with the equaliser from Hooper’s strong assist – though Kombarov is being credited as having the crucial last touch.
Fellow replacement Joe Ledley almost put the Glaswegians ahead with a peach of a 30-yard strike but only some desperate defending denied Emenike a chance at a hat-trick soon after.
But in the final minute of regulation time, left-back Emilio Izaguirre’s lovely cross was met perfectly by the head of Samaras, taking it into the bottom far corner despite the efforts of Pesiakov who had done so well to keep Spartak level since the sending off.
The result not only ended a barren run on the continent for the Celtic, but will prove the perfect European confidence boost with Barcelona the next challenge.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Gary Hooper - Celtic: A goal, an assist and the threat which led to the red card for Insaurralde. A true exhibition of the striker's quality and danger.
Spartak Moscow: Pesyakov 7, Insaurralde 6, Pareja 6, Makeev 5, Carioca 5, McGeady 5, De Zeeuw 6, Kallstrom 7, Kombarov 7, Ari 7, Emenike 8.Subs: Bryzgalov 6, Dzyuba 5, Kozlov n/a.
Celtic: Forster 7; Lustig 7, Wilson 6, Ambrose 7, Izaguirre 7; Commons 6, Brown 7, Wanyama 6, Mulgrew 7; Samaras 7, Hooper 9. Subs: Ledley 6, Forrest 7.
- Gary Hooper
- Spartak Moscow
- Georgios Samaras
- Dmitri Kombarov