Celtic’s Craig Gordon wary of Salzburg threat

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CELTIC were fortunate to take a point in Austria but keeper has last 32 in sights, says Moira Gordon.

Fortune favoured Celtic in Austria as they departed the scene of their Europa League opener with a point against Salzburg. Another point, this time on home turf, could be enough to see them through to the knockout stage but Craig Gordon does not expect it to come easily.

Craig Gordon knows a win over Salzburg will seal Celtic's place in the knockout stage. Picture: SNS

Craig Gordon knows a win over Salzburg will seal Celtic's place in the knockout stage. Picture: SNS

Salzburg are already guaranteed safe passage through to the draw for the round of 32 but a win would see them do that as group winners, and given the quality they showed when playing host to the Scottish champions in September the expectation is that they will crave that honour.

“I think it’s going to be difficult,” said the Scotland international goalkeeper. “They’ll be right up for it, they’ll be looking to cement that first place in the group and go through as winners. They’ve got something to play for even though they’ve qualified. It’s going to be a test for us, it’ll be a difficult game and one we’ll need to play really well in to win.

“I was very impressed by them, I thought they were very good across the

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• You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Google + re and we were slightly fortunate to escape with a point. They are a very good team, excellent fitness, put you under pressure all the time, never gave us a second to settle on the ball and make passes. They are well drilled defensively, they get after the ball and make teams make mistakes, try and win the ball high up the park and I wouldn’t expect anything less from them this time. They are the number one seeds in our group. They are a good team, and I’m not sure how they didn’t manage to qualify for the Champions League but they are certainly a good enough team to do that.

“But they are now in the Europa League and, quite rightly for their record over the last couple of years, the top seeds in our group and a difficult team to beat. We managed to hang in there away from home and get a good result and we may have to do that at times at home as well. It’s a game to look forward to, we know what we’re going to come up against and how they’re going to play. I don’t see them changing it a great deal, so it’s up to us to try to counter that to try to win the match.”

If Celtic can keep their guests at bay and secure a win, it would see them join Salzburg in the draw for the next round of the competition. Five points ahead of Dinamo Zagreb, they could afford to slip up, provided the Croatians fail to win at Astra. If not, it could all come down to the final fixture of the group campaign when Celtic take on Dinamo in Zagreb. According to Gordon, it’s a scenario Celtic would deal with if necessary but it’s a tense finale they would rather forego.

“That’s what we don’t want to happen but if that happens, it happens and we’ll deal with it then,” said the goalkeeper. “We’ve got this game to look forward to and we know if we take care of this game, which is in our own hands in our own stadium, and get the three points it’ll see us qualify and we can avoid that situation.”

In Austria, goals from Wakaso Mubarak and Scott Brown gave them hope that they could escape with all three points before Salzburg’s Jonatan Soriano added to Alan’s effort just 12 minutes from the end. The fact that Celtic were able to get two goals against high-calibre opposition offers encouragement ahead of Thursday’s match but the late intervention by the Spainish striker warns of the threat he and his team-mates pose in attack.

“He’s a good player, a very good player,” Gordon said of Soriano. “His all-round play was very good, he’s a very dangerous player and we’ll need to try to stop him this time. We managed to do that for most parts over there and obviously away from home you’re going to give up a few chances, so that wasn’t unexpected. But at home, when we’re trying to win the game, we’ll have to keep an eye on him because if they are counter-attacking with the pace and quality they’ve got he’ll be a real danger.”

That high-intensity, up-tempo style of play is similar to the one Ronny Deila is trying to imprint on his Celtic team. It is a work in progress but after a start to the season where Gordon was busier than he expected to be as a Celtic keeper, allowing him to prove his worth and add credence to the club’s willingness to gamble on him, he believes the manager’s message is finally seeping into the team’s play.

“It’s pretty similar [to Salzburg], although there are a few differences but certainly without the ball that’s as close to what our manager is looking for. It’s a very intense way of playing without the ball, trying to get it back high up the pitch and you have to have players who are capable of doing that for 90 minutes and [Salzburg] have definitely been used to playing that way for a while now and they seem quite settled, all the players know what they’re doing. It’s something we’ve only just started trying to implement this season and it is a kind of long-term project to become like that but it’s certainly very effective for them.”

How far down the road Celtic are towards emulating it will be tested this week. The demands are high but so are the rewards.

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