Celtic’s long and winding route in their ambition to qualify for the Champions League group stage for the second successive season will take them to central Asia, after Neil Lennon’s side were drawn against Kazakh side Shakhter Karaganda in the Champions League play-off round.
Lennon got his wish to play the second leg at Celtic Park, on either 27 or 28 August. However, Celtic face a problematic trip to Karagandy a week earlier, with the first leg due to take place on 20 or 21 August. Once again, the surface on which the away leg is likely to be played will be an issue for the Celtic manager.
Asked about the prospect of being drawn with the Kazakh club in the aftermath of the victory over Elfsborg on Wednesday night, Lennon said: “That’ll do. I’ve never been, but we’ll see who we get. I’ve not even looked at the list but that will do.”
What might not be so welcome is the possibility that Celtic could be asked to play on an artificial surface for a third successive Champions League qualifying tie.
Lennon stressed that he didn’t want to see another artificial pitch for a “very long time” after Celtic struggled to defend their 1-0 first leg lead against Elfsborg in Sweden on Wednesday. They had also played on an artificial pitch against Cliftonville in the previous round.
Shakhter Karaganda normally play at the 19,000 capacity Shakhytor stadium in Karaganda,However, they have played both of the home legs in their Champions League qualifiers, against BATE Borisov and Skenderbeu Korce, at the Astana stadium in Astana – which has an artificial surface.
After winning the league title in 2011 and 2012, the club are currently sitting fifth in the Kazakhstan Premier League. They were the lowest seeded team left in the draw. Perhaps the greatest obstacle presented to Celtic is
logistics – the flight to Karaganda will take up to seven hours.
Meanwhile, Nottingham Forest have confirmed they have re-signed defender Kevin Wilson from Celtic for a fee understood to be £2.5 million. Wilson, who left the City Ground in 2011 after signing a pre-contract deal with Celtic, has been handed a three-year deal at the City Ground.
‘’It’s nice to be back,” said the 27-year-old. “I’m delighted to get it all sorted and I can’t wait to get started, to be honest.”