Celtic secured a famous victory – only their sixth in 26 ties against Italian opponents – when second-half goals from Ryan Christie and Christophe Jullien outdistanced Lazio to put them top of Europa League Group E, one point clear of CFR Cluj.
The Scottish champions had to come from behind after being sucker-punched by a Manuel Lazzari strike before the break and it took two spectacular saves from Fraser Forster to secure a win that was celebrated extravagantly when full time sounded after five added minutes.
This was Lazio’s first encounter with Scottish opposition but the occasion was overshadowed by apprehension about how the Serie A club’s recidivist fans – given to Fascist salutes and racist displays – might behave, a fear fuelled when some of these antics were witnessed as their hardcore Ultras marched through the city centre earlier in the day. Most of the visitors, it must be said, seemed bent on enjoying themselves in orthodox fashion. The team lines confirmed the suspicion that Simone Inzaghi was more concerned about Lazio’s next domestic fixture, away to Fiorentina on Sunday night, because he named Ciro Immobile, their top scorer, as a substitute, with Felipe Caicedo in his place alongside Joaquin Correa at the top of a 3-5-2 formation.
Celtic reinstated Christie – serving a two-game domestic suspension – to his accustomed place in central midfield behind Odsonne Edouard, while Hatem Elhamed returned at right back. The pre-match pleasantries went off without incident and the Hoops fans in a full house were gratified to see their favourites begin as they had left off in last weekend’s 6-0 rout of Ross County, despite the quantum leap in technical ability of their opponents. Elhamed was confidence personified when he pinged a cute back-heeled pass along the edge of the pitch for James Forrest to gather and romp beyond the Lazio back line and turn a cutback into the path of Edouard.
The striker swivelled and shot but was blocked by the alert Bastos, otherwise Celtic would have been ahead with their first attack. The momentum had been established, however, and their opening pressure peaked after quarter of an hour when Christie, picking up the leavings from another thrust by Edouard, uncorked a left-foot drive that swept past Thomas Strakosha but also clipped off his far post.
Lazio began to throw shapes which indicated their menace but, as the interval neared, Celtic pressed again and a Callum McGregor effort deflected behind off Bastos. The officials inexplicably missed what the crowd had seen and awarded a goal kick.
Celtic’s sense of grievance was heightened within two minutes, but they had only their own slackness to blame as they were skewered by a classic counterattack when Caicedo sent Correa scampering down the inside-right channel to feed Lazzari on the overlap for an angled drive beyond the static Forrest to silence the home partisans. By the hour mark, there was mounting evidence that Celtic’s frustration was manifesting itself in fraying play and Lennon looked to his bench, summoning Tom Rogic to replace Elyanoussi. Lazio came within a fraction of doubling their lead when Correa broke clear of three supposed markers but, faced with the outrushing Forster, cracked his finish back off the post.
Now it was Celtic’s turn to play on the turn and they drew level when Edouard prompted Christie into scooping a first-time drive on the rise beyond Strakosha.