It already seems like a distant memory since #Celtic's shock 1-0 defeat to the Lincoln Red Imps of Gibraltar in a previous qualifying round and that is testament to the growing impact of new manager Brendan Rodgers. Challenges and setbacks are dealt with immediately and the footballing side of Celtic's operations seems to be controlled in a much more decisive manner. It is refreshing for supporters to see a manager that manages rather than appear caught in the headlights as his predecessor, Ronny Deila, so often did. It is early days, of course, and the vagaries of the Champions League qualifying route for clubs that fall outside of the big European leagues mean that a season-defining encounter often takes place well before even the end of the first transfer window.

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Consolidating the feelgood factor

For Celtic, they face the first of two games against the Israeli champions, Hapoel Beer Sheva, on Wednesday night. In these two-legged knockout ties, many express their preference for the second game to be on home territory. This scenario certainly helped Rodger's fledgling side in the previous two rounds - against Kazakh champions (and group stage participants last year) FC Astana and the afore-mentioned Imps (who forfeited their surprise first leg advantage in a 3-0 defeat in Glasgow). Alas, for the most crucial tie of all, Celtic will play at home first. Cue various fan-sites sourcing a hitherto obscure statistical analysis of #Champions League knockout ties that prove being at home first does not necessarily make a huge difference! It is noteworthy though that a nervousness that surrounded the previous ties against FC Astana has given way to a more cautious optimism about how ready the Bhoys will be for the challenge of seeing off the Israeli champions.

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Recent form provides optimism

Part of the reason for the upbeat attitude around Celtic Park at present is driven by the new manager's shrewd acquisitions in the transfer market - the highly rated youngster Moussa Dembele picked Glasgow for his next step up the career ladder and he has been joined by both the experienced Kolo Toure and enigmatic Scott Sinclair. Toure, in particular, adds much needed experience to the Celtic defence and should prove invaluable in the bigger games that Celtic hope to encounter throughout the rest of the European season. Dembele and Sinclair have both made positive scoring starts to their Celtic careers - and there is nothing that Celtic Park appreciates more than a goalscorer who scores regularly! A hard-fought opening day League win away to Hearts was followed by a free-scoring 5-0 demolition of Motherwell in the first domestic cup tie of the season.

Celtic spark?

Celtic's opponents on Wednesday are more of an unknown quantity but have been advocated as having a steel and determination underpinning their play.

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They saw off Champions League regulars, Greek side Olympiacos, in the previous round so there is plenty of warning for Celtic to be fully prepared for a difficult encounter. Nonetheless, the Bhoys have good early momentum and will be backed by a passionate crowd that have already demonstrated a high degree of initial regard for the new manager. The desire to set up a more straightforward second leg in Israel will be a significant motivating factor. On nights when supporters and players are in unison at Celtic Park, there really is no atmosphere like it. Lionel Messi acknowledges it as one of his favourite stadiums in the world to play football - let's hope the dream of competing with Barcelona in the group stages once again is closer to a reality for Celtic by 9.45pm on Wednesday. 

Prediction: Celtic to take a big stride forward (but not quite guarantee their place in the group stages) with a determined 2-0 victory. In Brendan we trust! #playoff