A decent home crowd turned up for their last taste of European football this season - and with neither side under any real pressure, there lay ahead the possibility of an open and exciting game and that is exactly what the first half produced. Celtic started brightly, Maloney testing goalkeeper Sebastian Viera with a drive from the edge of the box. It was the first inkling of what was to come from the Parkhead men, and in the 14th minute they took the lead after Shunsuke Nakamura sent Mark Wilson towards the byline. When the former Dundee United defender's cross had the sting taken out of it by Viera, Maloney had the easiest of tasks to head into an empty net. The goal stung the Spaniards, and the Scottish champions had to survive a few minutes of intense pressure. But in the 21st minute, Celtic might have made it 2-0 when Maloney's wonderfully-crafted cross from the right just evaded Georgios Samaras - who had left the Villarreal defence in his wake. In the 35th minute, with the game still in the balance, Villarreal were reduced to 10 men in bizarre circumstances when the linesman flagged to inform referee Claudio Circhetta that Franco had apparently struck Caldwell. The decision seemed harsh on the evidence of television. The incident was missed by most inside Parkhead - but after protests by the visitors, which earned Edmilson a booking, the Mexican striker had to troop off. Villarreal lost their discipline for a few moments, and McGeady and Samaras combined at the edge of the box before the Republic of Ireland midfielder turned and curled a shot just past the post. In the first minute of injury time, McGeady picked the ball up just over the halfway line and drove towards the Villarreal goal. From the edge of the box, he drilled a left-footed shot past Viera and into the corner of the net - as easy as you like.
After the break, Villarreal made an unconvincing attempt to get back in to the game. In the 56th minute, substitute Nihat Kahveci - on for Marcos Senna at the interval - volleyed an Ariel Ibagaza corner in to the side-netting to cause a few flutters among the Celtic fans. The same supporters, buoyed by the way their side were playing, let under-fire goalkeeper Artur Boruc know they had forgiven him for his costly blunder in Sunday's game against Hibs. Celtic were pushing for the third goal, McGeady clearly enjoying his roving role as he danced past yellow jerseys all over the pitch. The visitors, though, should have pulled a goal back in the 70th minute when Kahveci raced clear of the Hoops defence - but to the delight of the Celtic fans, Boruc produced a fine block from the substitute's close-range drive. Although the game began to drop in tempo, Celtic remained on top. In the 87th minute, Caldwell missed a good chance when he headed Paul Hartley's corner straight at Viera.
Celtic: Boruc, Hinkel, Caldwell, McManus, Wilson (O'Dea 81), Nakamura, Scott Brown, Hartley, McGeady (McGowan 75), Maloney, Samaras (McDonald 81).
Subs Not Used: Mark Brown, Loovens, Mizuno, Caddis
Booked: Caldwell, McGowan
Goals: Maloney 14, McGeady 45
Villarreal: Viera, Angel, Fuentes, Rodriguez, Bruno, Cani, Senna (Nihat 45), Edmilson, Fernandez, Franco, Ibagaza (Santi Cazorla 60).
Subs Not Used: Diego Lopez, Eguren, Pires, Cygan
Sent Off: Franco (35)
Booked: Edmilson, Senna, Angel, Ibagaza
Ref: Claudio Circhetta (Switzerland)
Ger Harley (ger@scottishfitba net)
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