CHARLIE Mulgrew insists Celtic are ready to cope with whatever their 8,000 mile round trip to Kazakhstan throws at them in order to reach the Champions League group stage for the second successive season.
The Scottish champions made the six-hour journey to Astana, the Kazakh capital, on a chartered flight from Dyce Airport on Saturday evening after their 2-0 Scottish Premiership victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie earlier in the day.
Celtic are determined to leave nothing to chance for the first leg of their crucial Champions League Play-Off round tie against Shakhter Karagandy. With Kazakhstan five hours ahead of UK time, Celtic arrived in Astana yesterday morning to acclimatise for tomorrow’s match. “Leaving right after the game at Pittodrie will have helped a lot,” said Mulgrew. “It gives us time to adjust and be well prepared for the match when it comes.”
Celtic are facing a highly motivated Shakhter Karagandy side who are bidding to become the first from their country to qualify for the Champions League group stage. Mulgrew has already gleaned some information on them from his former Aberdeen team-mate Stuart Duff, who is now playing in the Kazakhstan Premier League with FC Kairat. “Stuart says they are a big side who like to get it forward early,” said Mulgrew. “They use a lot of long throws and stuff like that.
“We will have to deal with it. If it is a battle, then we’ll have to match them. It might suit us. Usually the teams we play in the Champions League like to keep the ball, rather than launch it forward. Over the next day or two, we’ll look more closely at them with the manager.
“They have reached this level, so to get this far they must have done something right. They are not going to be any mugs and the last thing we are going to do is approach it with a bad attitude.”
For the third consecutive tie in Champions League qualifying, Celtic will play on an artificial surface tomorrow. Mulgrew is confident they will adapt, just as they did in the previous two rounds against Cliftonville in Belfast and Elfsborg in Sweden.
“We are dying for a bit of grass!” he smiled. “But we know what we need to do, we know what these surfaces are like. We are used to it now. It’s a bit different, the way the ball bounces and rolls. There are different types of astroturf too, so we’ll need to wait and see what one this is.”
Mulgrew and his team-mates gave themselves the perfect send-off for their trek across Europe with victory at Pittodrie on Saturday. The former Aberdeen player, jeered throughout by the home fans, was satisfied to have struck an early-season blow against the side many observers have tipped to be Celtic’s closest domestic rivals. “It was about approaching it with the right attitude and getting the right result,” he said. “We managed to do that. We knew it would be hard at Pittodrie. Aberdeen have started the season well. We knew the crowd would get behind them. We had to weather that and win the game.”
Meanwhile, Celtic are keeping tabs on Peterborough triker Lee Tomlin.
The 24-year-old hit the winner in his side’s 2-1 triumph against Oldham after having a transfer demand rejected by boss Darren Ferguson. Celtic manager Lennon had the player watched last season and could now make his move as he continues his search for a replacement for Gary Hooper.
However, Ferguson is in no rush to part with his £3million-rated forward who has scored 36 goals for the club since joining from Rushden & Diamonds three years ago.
He said: “Lee is obviously taking advice from other people and he’s entitled to do what he’s done. We, as a club, have to make a decision. He’s handed in a request and we’ve rejected it.”