SCOTT Brown says a fear of humiliation on home soil drove Celtic to their electrifying comeback against Inter Milan last Thursday and believes it could have lit the spark for an historic success in the San Siro this week.
The Celtic captain has admitted he feared the worst in the first leg of the Europa League last 32 tie when his side found themselves trailing 2-0 after just 13 minutes.
The Scottish champions’ subsequent resilience, capped off by John Guidetti’s stoppage time goal to earn them a 3-3 draw, has at least preserved hope they can extend their run in the tournament.
Inter Milan are understandably still hot favourites to qualify for the last 16, priced as short as 1-8 by some bookmakers, while Celtic are rated as long as 9-2 shots. But while that reflects the record of no Scottish club ever having won a European tie in the San Siro, a run which stretches back almost 60 years and has seen 14 previous attempts falter, Brown is bullish about the prospects of upsetting the odds against Roberto Mancini’s side.
“I think we all thought we were in trouble in the first leg,” admitted Brown. “We looked around at each other when we went 2-0 down so early in the game and said ‘we need to stick in here’
“We knew we were in trouble at that stage. We didn’t want to be out there in front of 60,000 Celtic fans and embarrass ourselves. We had to get it together and thankfully we managed to score two great goals to get back into the game.
“We were disappointed at the way we went 2-0 behind but the way we fought back showed the fighting spirit in our team. There is a real never-say-die attitude. Yes, we made mistakes and gave them a couple of goals. But we didn’t give up and have given ourselves a chance going into the second leg. We created chances and could maybe have even scored a few more goals than we did. The great thing is we managed to create those chances and we are still in the tie. We will probably go to Milan and play the same formation, try to press Inter high up the park again and prey on their mistakes. If we do that, who knows what can happen.
“We have got to go over there and think we can do it, especially when you look at the chances we created against them. You have a chance when you have the likes of Leigh Griffiths and John Guidetti in your team.
“John scored a great goal – it was an unbelievable finish – but wee Griff worked his socks off to soften up the Inter defence for him. He created chances for others as well. We’ll do the same in Milan. It could be 5-4 this time and it would be nice if it was to us.”
It was to Brown’s credit in the heat of such a torrid affair at Celtic Park that he was able to maintain the discipline required to avoid the caution which would have incurred a suspension for the second leg.
The Scotland skipper relished the midfield battle and was thrilled at the assistance he received from recent signings Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven on their European debuts for the club.
“It was great the way we pressed and a lot of credit has to go to the way the new boys came in,” added Brown.
“Inter are a great side, they have great players, some of them cost a lot of money. But you look around our squad and we have a few guys who know what it’s about and it helps that Stuart and Gary now know what the big European matches for Celtic are like.
“It was a good battle in the middle but we also did well with the boys out wide stepping in and Stefan Johansen getting involved as well. It was our job to channel as much aggression as we could and try to get us as far up the pitch as possible.
“There was never a point when we didn’t want the ball. That’s the sign of a good team. Even though it wasn’t going our way at one point, everyone showed for it. No one hid. We eventually got that bit of luck we needed to get back in it and never looked back.
“In the second half we had a great attitude. We controlled the game and created chances. We need to do that again in Milan. I think we showed Inter how good we can be in that second half. We controlled the match and pushed to get the equaliser and eventually got the reward.
“You could see our fitness at the end. The Inter lads were going down with cramp but we were still raring to go in those final few minutes.
“Inter struggled a bit then but I think that was down to our fans as well. They made the place so intimidating. They supported us from start to finish. They were still singing at 2-0 down and chanting for us to get forward. Everyone talks about the fans being the 12th man but it really is the case in these situations. They really pushed us on.”
No-one appreciated the input of the Celtic support in the first leg more than goalkeeper Craig Gordon whose name was chanted positively in the wake of his blunder at the the end of the first half which allowed Inter to take a 3-2 lead.
Gordon is likely to be a key figure for Celtic on Thursday night and Brown feels his stoppage time save to prevent a Xherdan Shaqiri free-kick from snatching a 4-3 win for Inter could prove to be his most significant contribution.
“Craig is worth his weight in gold to us,” added Brown. “Everyone makes mistakes and for their third goal, the ball was a bit slippery when it shot through towards him. At the end of the day, he made a super save right at the end which kept the game level and keeps us in the tie.”
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