NIR Bitton has hit out at the negative reaction to Celtic’s first leg victory over Malmö in the Champions League play-off round and insists the Parkhead club are clearly superior to their Swedish opponents.
Jo Inge Berget’s stoppage time goal for Malmö at Celtic Park on Wednesday ended the night on a low note for the Scottish champions, despite the fact they will take a lead into the second leg of the tie at the Swedbank Stadium next Tuesday night.
The 3-2 advantage is a precarious one as a consequence of Berget’s second away goal for Malmö who had looked down and possibly out when they trailed 2-0 and then 3-1 in a tumultuous contest.
Celtic remain favourites to reach the group stage of the Champions League but their margin for error has been significantly reduced by their late lapse in defensive concentration.
Midfielder Bitton, however, is adamant Ronny Deila’s team should approach the return fixture in Malmö with positivity and confidence and has warned against playing for a draw.
“Everybody saw on Wednesday night who is the better team,” said Celtic’s influential Israeli international. “I hope we will show that again on Tuesday. Do I believe we can do it? Of course I believe that.
“This is the stage for us to go and show our character. This is the stage for us to show who we are and what we can achieve. So now it is up to us and I hope we can now go out there and do it.
“The end of the game on Wednesday was not what we wanted but everyone seems to be forgetting that we still have the advantage in the tie. Of course, there is a very big difference between winning 3-1 and winning 3-2, but it must be remembered that we are still winning.
“We need to go to Sweden and play our own game. We need to do the same things that we did in the first half at Celtic Park and we will go through.”
Bitton headed Celtic into a 2-0 lead after just ten minutes on Wednesday, Leigh Griffiths having given Deila’s men a flying start with a third minute opener. Berget halved the deficit with his first goal of the night early in the second half before Griffiths struck again to restore a commanding position for Celtic they were ultimately unable to preserve.
“Looking at the whole game, we could have finished it earlier,” reflected Bitton. “When we were leading 2-0, we conceded the first goal to Malmö from out of nowhere. That gave them some confidence at that point of the match, but we didn’t let that affect us and went on to score a third goal. That was very important to us, but to concede in the last minute was not great.
“I think the key for us now is to forget the game at Celtic Park. Don’t think it about it anymore. It is finished. Put it out of our minds and have the thoughts now that we are going to Sweden to play a one-off game.
“Make it the objective that we are to go there and do as good as we can to get a good result in the one game. We should be going there to win the game, as we always do. If we try to go to Malmö and play for a draw, it would not be a good thing for us to do. So we just need to think about winning the game over there and that is what we will do.”
Bitton has respect for Malmö’s home record which has seen them lose just two of their last 12 European matches at the Swedbank Stadium. Those defeats were against European heavyweights Juventus and Atletico Madrid in last season’s Champions League group stage.
“Malmö showed in the last game they had at home in the Champions League qualifiers that they can be good in their own stadium,” added Bitton.
“They managed to beat Red Bull Salzburg 3-0, so that shows it will be difficult for us when we go there. But if we want to go on and play in the group stages of the Champions League, we need to be able to deal with that type of situation.
“These are the kind of games that everybody in the squad is looking forward to. We just want to go through. Everybody at Celtic wants to get through to the group stages of the Champions League and it is the main thing for us at this moment.
“We just need to go to Malmö and do our things in the right way during the whole match. If we play the way we can and in the way we did in the first half at Celtic Park, we can do it.”