ANTHONY Stokes has expressed his sympathy for Legia Warsaw but insists Celtic have nothing to feel guilty about as they take their place in the play-off round of the Champions League.
The Polish champions lost their battle to be reinstated in the tournament after their error in fielding a suspended player in the closing minutes of their 6-1 aggregate win over Celtic in the third qualifying round caused their elimination.
“It was harsh on Legia, there’s no argument about that,” said Stokes. “They were the better team over the two legs, but the rules are there for a reason and what happened next was nothing to do with us.
“I know – or at least I’m pretty sure – that it wasn’t a case of us going in there and handing in a protest form to get them in trouble. I think Uefa picked up on it and dealt with it themselves and that took it out of our hands.
“Everyone at the club felt in some way sorry for Legia, but all that matters now is that we make amends for how we played before and give the fans a result and performance they deserve. We have to prove we’re worthy of this level. It is what it is, we’re here and we have to do better than we did against Legia.
“Anyone with any idea about football and how things work know we did nothing wrong. Legia made the mistake and they have to live with it. I feel for any footballer who loses in that way, ’course I do. They’re a decent side and I wish them all the best in the Europa League, I really do. But it’s done and dusted now, time to forget it and move on.”
For Stokes, the play-off round tie against Maribor presents him with another chance to break his Champions League scoring duck. The Irish international striker has failed to find the net in 14 appearances in the tournament for Celtic so far.
He insists he does not feel under any extra pressure to score at a time when new manager Ronny Deila is seeking striking reinforcements before the transfer window closes. “All I do is focus on myself and try to work hard,” added the 26-year-old. “I try to play as well as I can and score goals and the rest is out of my hands.
“I thought I played well in the Champions League games last year. Although I didn’t score, I thought I did well enough in a team when we didn’t see much of the ball in games.
“Maribor is massive game and, of course, I want to be involved and make an impact. I’ll take doing as well as I did last weekend and not scoring, so long as we get a result.
“You can buy strikers from the continent for six or seven million pounds and nothing’s guaranteed. We’ve seen it at Celtic before, guys who’ve come in and not scored the goals expected of them. If you want the quality, though, there’s no doubt you have to spend the money. So maybe we’re just not in a financial position at the club to do that right now.
“But that’s nothing to do with me. I just focus on my own game – and anyway, I’ve always said that competition for places is a good thing. It’s good for the club and it’s good for me. It spurs me on and I just keep doing my best to get in the team.”