CELTIC new boy Derk Boerrigter is out of the second-leg of the Hoops’ Champions League third round qualifier against Elfsborg in Sweden tomorrow night.
The Dutchman, who signed from Ajax last week for a reported fee of £3million, was forced off with an ankle injury in the first-half of his debut against Ross County at Parkhead on Saturday and failed to recover in time to join Neil Lennon’s squad who turned up at Glasgow airport this morning ahead of their trip to Boras.
We won’t let Elfsborg push Samaras around - Brown
Meanwhile, Celtic’s players will not allow Elfsborg to single out Georgios Samaras for special treatment tomorrow night, captain Scott Brown has vowed.
The Greek striker was subjected to a number of heavy tackles in the first leg of the Champions League third-round qualifier, which Celtic won 1-0 thanks to a second-half goal from Kris Commons. At the weekend, Elfsborg’s English midfielder James Keene insisted Samaras was big enough to look after himself, saying: “He’s a big strong lad with a lot of experience, a top player. We tried to keep him quiet at Parkhead and I guess I didn’t do too badly.
“He took a few tackles on Wednesday night, but he got right back up and did well. I’m sure there will be a few more tackles waiting for him in Sweden.”
But yesterday Brown said the Scottish champions had no intention of allowing Samaras to be isolated by Elfsborg. “If they’re going to single Sami out for special treatment, that should be fun,” he predicted. “A few of the lads will help Sami out – that’s for sure.
“We are a tight group of players. We spend time together after training – we don’t just leave as soon as possible. We have lunch together, we have a bit of craic in the gym and games room, and enjoy the banter. But as soon as we go on the pitch, we all stick up for each other.
“Elfsborg went in to win every ball and tried to put pressure on us, especially in the first half. It worked at the start as we didn’t play that well, but we came out in the second half and had a lot more control of the ball.
“They seemed to get deeper and deeper, and they didn’t get as many tackles in. We moved the ball a lot quicker.”
Brown knows that an away goal for Celtic in Sweden could be crucial, but he feels that the priority for his team is to defend compactly. “It would be good if we can score early doors. It would settle everyone’s nerves.
“Defensively, we seem to be doing not too bad. I know we lost an early goal against Ross County, but we started sloppily and, once we hear the Champions League music, we’ll start nice and sharp with the two banks of four and see what we can do. It has turned out well in the Champions League so far.
“We’ve got faith in our back four and the goalie has done well over the last season and a half, so we all have confidence – and confidence in the strikers to score goals. Even if we’re missing Gary [Hooper] we’ve still scored at least two in each of the games we’ve played. So we’re kicking on from where we left off with Gary, and scoring nice easy goals as well as long-rangers too.
“We can’t look too far ahead and think we’re into the next round: we must concentrate on winning the game. These qualifiers are more nervy than other games. It puts a bit of extra pressure on everyone: the fans, us and the manager. He’ll be thinking about what we can do and how to sneak a goal here and there.”
The confidence with which Celtic are approaching the return leg is a stark contrast to the mood of trepidation with which they seemed to approach every away game in Europe not so long ago. Then, they simply appeared unable to win at all on the road. Now, according to Brown, Neil Lennon has convinced them they are good enough to get a result whatever the venue.
“We are more confident going into away games now. The gaffer has instilled belief into us.
“He believes we can win away from home and that carries over to the players. We go into these games knowing we have a good chance.
“We get the ball down, we pass it and we create chances. We also have players like Sami who can get us goals.
“He scored in five out of five away games last season, so that shows we can get goals away from home. But it’s a team effort. The defence has been solid too.
“It did take me a couple of years to get an away win in Europe with Celtic. The first was in 2009 against Dinamo Moscow under Tony Mowbray.
“We’ve done okay in the qualifiers, touch wood, but it’s still hard to go into these away games. Elfsborg are halfway through their season and their fitness should be showing.
“But our first-leg performance showed how fit we are. The boys only had a short break and we haven’t lost that much fitness – you could see that when we pinned them back after 70 minutes.
“They had their backs to the wall and we did well to score and not concede. It’s good that nobody really talks about our away record any more, and hopefully we can keep it going and get a few more good results.”
Reminded that Lennon has said he is still looking for another striker to replace Hooper, Brown joked that he had volunteered for the job. Then, more seriously, he said that the departure of the Englishman could be the cue for Anthony Stokes to prove himself worthy of an extended run in the team.
“I’ve put my name in to play as a striker, but I’ve heard nothing. Stokesy has been flying at the start of the season. He looks sharp, he has been consistent and is creating chances as well as scoring goals.
“That’s what we need. I know the manager might bring in a new striker, but it’s a great chance for Stokesy to show how good he is and what he can do.”