Scotland rugby internationalist Greig Tonks insists Murrayfield will suit Celtic right down to the ground as the Glasgow giants prepare to become the first to play on the stadium’s newly-installed hybrid pitch.
The Scottish Rugby Union have spent an estimated £1.25 million on relaying their much-maligned surface after issues with root-eating roundworms led to stinging criticism that came to a head during this year’s Six Nations.
Following a brief interlude to allow the visit of superstar boy band One Direction last month, the Desso Grassmaster pitch – similar to that used by Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal, as well as at Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium – has been cultivated in plenty time for Celtic to host KR Reykjavik at the Edinburgh arena in tomorrow’s Champions League qualifier.
Celtic opted for the home of Scottish rugby when seeking a new base for their European matches while Celtic Park is being used for the Commonwealth Games and they have been assured of a top-class surface for their first visit to the stadium tomorrow.
The new grass, strengthened by a carpet of millions of artificial fibres, has transformed the stadium’s pitch from the one that was branded “awful” and “a shambles” as it was left in a muddy mess during the winter.
Tonks, who has assessed the work carried out with Scotland and Edinburgh Rugby team-mate Dougie Fife, is confident Celtic will be impressed with what they find.
The 25-year-old said: “Dougie and I were the first to set foot on the new pitch at BT Murrayfield and the surface is immaculate.
“It’s the same surface as the Liberty Stadium, that’s shared by rugby and football clubs Ospreys and Swansea FC, so it’s proven to be well suited to fast-flowing, elite-level football and rugby.
“Celtic will be the first to play a competitive game on it and we can’t wait to get out there when our season kicks off in September.”
It will not be the first time Murrayfield has hosted European football, with Hearts having played ties there in the past, while both Hearts and Hibs have used the venue for friendlies against Barcelona in recent years.
The SRU’s director of commercial operations, communications and public affairs Dominic McKay added: “The BT Murrayfield pitch is in excellent condition and we’re hugely proud of what has been achieved, in a relatively short space of time, to ensure we have a playing surface our supporters will be proud of.
“Our groundstaff have worked tremendously hard over the last four months and I’d like to congratulate them on a job well done.
“We look forward to welcoming Celtic, KR Reykjavik and their supporters to BT Murrayfield on Tuesday and wish them the best of luck in this important European qualifier.”
Meanwhile, Celtic manager Ronny Deila focused on the positives after his side were held to a 1-1 draw by Dynamo Dresden in their friendly in Germany on Saturday.
In a game played in sweltering heat, Kris Commons put the Scottish champions ahead when he clinically found the net after good set-up work by Teemu Pukki and Callum McGregor.
Deila made a raft of changes after the break as he gave game-time to the remaining players in his travelling squad, but his side were unable to hold on to their lead as Sylvano Calvanious levelled the match for the hosts midway through the second half and the match finished one apiece.
“It was a very tough game with the heat and I’m proud of the boys as they worked hard for 90 minutes after I had trained them hard yesterday and then they had the long trip to Germany,” said Deila.
“The result was okay and now it’s all about getting energy into the game on Tuesday.
“The first 20 minutes were good, and I think we got the physical shape out of this. We had a lot of chances in the first half and again at the start of the game but we need those periods to be longer.
“Every player got 45 minutes in a nice stadium with a good atmosphere so it was worth it.
“But now it’s important to let the boys rest so we are full of energy and have no excuses going into the game on Tuesday.”
Former Hearts and Sunderland goalkeeper Craig Gordon made his Celtic debut following two years out of the game with injury and the Scotland international turned in an impressive performance, making several excellent saves.
Holmbert Fridjonsson was also handed his first appearance in a Celtic shirt, the Icelandic frontman coming on at the interval in place of Pukki.
“Holmbert is a talented boy and he needs time,” said Deila. “It was good for him to get 45 minutes, his first appearance in the top team under me. He did well and worked hard.
“I was very pleased with Craig. It was a fantastic performance and he was like a cat in the goals and everything seemed easy.
“I am happy for him after two years and three months since the last time he played.”
Celtic suffered an injury scare when stand-in skipper Commons was forced to leave the action after a clash towards the end of the first half.
However, Deila remains hopeful that the attacking midfielder will be fit for the second-leg encounter against Reykjavik tomorrow.
“He got a knee in his thigh,” said the Norwegian. “It can hurt but I don’t think it’s very big and I hope he’s ready for Tuesday.”