BLACKBURN Rovers have ended their pre-season campaign with an impressive 2-1 victory at Scottish Premier League side Celtic.
Goals in each half from David Dunn and Alan Judge were enough to give Sam Allardyce’s men the perfect lift ahead of next weekend’s Premier League opener.
Marc Antoine Fortune had levelled for the hosts in the first half but Rovers were well worth their victory.
Lining up in a 4-1-3-2 formation, Rovers started brightly with David Dunn pulling the strings in the heart of the midfield.
It was from a moment of Dunn wizardry that created the first real chance of the game on nine minutes as his raking pass picked out the marauding Brett Emerton.
The Australian attempted to head the ball over the advancing goalkeeper but Lucasz Zaluska was able to parry the ball into the air and collect at the second effort.
It came as no surprise though when Dunn produced the opener on 11 minutes, brilliantly curling a 25-yard free kick past Zaluska after Nikola Kalinic had been fouled.
Celtic were level just five minutes later though as Marc Antoine Fortune latched onto Patrick McCourt’s precise through ball before slotting the ball across Paul Robinson and into the net.
Rovers continued to do most of the pressing though and almost retook the lead when Michel Salgado’s defence-splitting through ball was headed across goal by Josh Morris.
The waiting Nick Blackman looked certain to head home from close range but Charlie Mulgrew was just able to flick the ball away.
At the other end, Celtic were a threat as well though and substitute Morten Rasmussen should have done better when he was put clear through on goal, with his feeble effort easily cleared by Phil Jones.
Rovers came out quickly after the break and should have been ahead on 47 minutes when Croatian striker Kalinic picked up a loose ball just yards out from goal.
His well hit shot though deflected off Zaluska’s legs and Celtic were able to clear.
Dunn was the next to go close on 52 minutes with a sublime 30-yard chip that had Zaluska stranded but which sailed inches over the bar.
Salgado then saw a long range shot fly over while at the other end Fortune should have done better when he raced clear of the Rovers defence.
The visitors retook the lead on 65 minutes though through substitute Alan Judge. The midfielder’s low shot from the edge of the box crept in at the near post after Kalinic’s neat pass.
Goalkeeper Paul Robinson, fresh from announcing his international retirement, reacted smartly to parry Ben Hutchinson’s shot wide on 79 minutes
NEIL LENNON has given up on his two-year battle to get Paddy McCourt up to peak sharpness.
But Celtic manager Lenny reckons the Derry Pele is sure to fit into his SPL title charge.
McCourt teased and tormented Blackburn as the Hoops ended their pre-season preparations.
He gave ex-Real Madrid right-back Michel Salgado a roasting and created a stunning goal for Marc-Antoine Fortune.
Lennon admits there’s no chance of McCourt ever being able to string together a dozen full games.
But he is still tipping his countryman – who has been handed a new three-year deal – to fill Aiden McGeady’s boots.
Lennon said: “Paddy was playing against Salgado, who is a world-class full-back, and he gave him a really tough time.
“He’s wonderful to watch and is beautifully balanced. He has great vision and two great feet.
“He is a different type of player to Aiden and he doesn’t have McGeady’s dynamic style of play.
“But his other qualities more than make up for that and we saw them all here.
“His vision and touch are great and so are his appreciation, weight and timing of a pass. Paddy was very good and his fitness is improving, but he still needs a breather at times.
“I don’t know if we can ever get him fully fit. We’ve been trying to do it for two years now.
“We might have to accept he’s never going to be fully fit.
“We will have to monitor him as best we can and look at giving him games then giving him a rest.
“It would be good for him to play five, six or even ten games consistently, but he’s not done that yet.
“In fact, we’d all love him to play 25 or 30 games a season, but we’ll have to take it week to week.”
McCourt, 26, was the stand-out as a makeshift Hoops side lost 2-1 to Rovers in the lowest of low-key friendlies.
David Dunn and sub Alan Judge netted either side of Fortune’s well-taken effort in front of just 20,000 fans.
Lennon bemoaned more defensive lapses from Celts, who have now lost 11 goals in five games over 11 days. Blackburn keeper Paul Robinson – who quit England just hours earlier – excelled with a couple of superb stops.
Lennon added: “I was pleased with some of the performances, but the rest were debatable.
“We conceded a really poor second goal at a spell in the game when I felt we were on top.
“We can still improve at both ends of the pitch, but it’s given me an idea of who can come into the team.”
Just six days before the SPL kick-off at Inverness and Lennon decided to throw in the Towell.
Home-grown midfielder Richie Towell was one of eight changes from the Champions League exit against SC Braga.
Charlie Mulgrew and Gary Hooper kept their places, but the latter lasted just 24 minutes before limping off.
With Scott Brown injured and out of Scotland’s midweek friendly, Andreas Hinkel was handed the captain’s armband.
But the defender had a torrid time as Sam Allardyce’s stars made the brighter opening.
Lukasz Zaluska denied Brett Emerton after eight minutes, but Rovers were ahead three minutes later.
Dunn whipped a stunning free-kick over the wall and inside the right-hand post after Towell fouled Nikola Kalinic.
But Celtic stormed back into the game after 16 minutes with McCourt feeding Fortune for a splendid finish.
McCourt twisted away from Emerton wide on the left and threaded the ball through for Fortune to beat Robinson.
Celts fell behind again after 64 minutes, with Hinkel guilty of a defensive lapse as sub Judge nipped in to score.
Robinson’s flying save denied Daryl Murphy a leveller after 79 minutes following good work by Hoops sub Ben Hutchinson.
Then Hutchinson flashed a 20-yard drive inches past the post after 87 minutes, but Celts couldn’t find an equaliser.
GOALS from David Dunn and Alan Judge again exposed Celtic’s defensive frailties as Blackburn Rovers won a pre-season friendly at Parkhead 2-1.
Dunn and Judge scored either side of a Marc-Antoine Fortune strike, as the two sides rounded off their preparations for their league campaigns, which begin next weekend.