Celtic enjoy flying start to European campaign
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Celtic will take a commanding lead back to Scotland after a 3-0 win against Northern Irish side Cliftonville in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League second round qualifier.

The Scottish champions looked too strong for the part-timers in the first half and Kris Commons had already hit the bar before Sweden international Mikel Lustig headed the Hoops ahead in the 24th minute.

Greek striker Georgios Samaras then doubled Celtic's lead with a powerful strike from the edge of the box in the 31st minute.

The Belfast side improved after the break but failed to test Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster and it was the Hoops who added a third in the 84th minute when James Forrest drilled a low shot past Conor Devlin.

Neil Lennon's side, who reached the last 16 of the competition last season, have a large lead to take to Celtic Park next Tuesday as they attempt to reach the third qualifying round and move closer to the lucrative group stages.

Celtic were without last season's top scorer Gary Hooper, subject of transfer speculation in recent weeks, due to a groin strain while Adam Matthews, Charlie Mulgrew, Joe Ledley and Virgil van Dijk all missed out.

The Hoops seemed to struggle to cope with the artificial surface at Solitude in the opening moments with Cliftonville forcing an early free-kick that Liam Boyce failed to capitalise on.

However, the Scottish champions soon settled and came close to opening the scoring in the third minute when Forrest swung a cross over from the left wing to the back post where Commons bulleted a header off the bar.

Lustig broke the deadlock when he met a Commons corner at the front post to power a header past Devlin from six yards.

Cliftonville tried to respond immediately but Boyce sent his snap shot straight into the arms of Celtic keeper Forster.

Celtic doubled their lead through a superb strike from Samaras. The Greek striker showed some neat footwork on the edge of the box before swivelling and rifling a shot into the top corner.

Ciaran Caldwell fired over for Cliftonville before Commons was denied by the woodwork for a second time when his curling shot from the edge of the box smacked off the post.

The home side started the second half with purpose and Forster had to race from his line to save from Stephen Garrett after Lustig was woefully short with a header back to his keeper.

Boyce then showed good skill to get away from Kelvin Wilson before setting up Joe Gormley for a chance but Efe Ambrose was alert to the danger and scrambled clear.

The Northern Ireland champions continued to press and Caldwell cushioned a pass into the path of Marc Smyth whose shot was blocked by the Celtic defence.

The woodwork then denied Stokes from increasing Celtic's lead in the 68th minute when his shot rattled the bar on its way over.

Australia international Tom Rogic replaced Commons before Forrest added a third goal in the 84th minute. Stokes played a through ball to the winger and he raced away from a couple of challenges before drilling a shot past Devlin at his near post.