Midfielder believes Celtic’s focus must switch from Europe to league business, says Andrew Smith
THE all-consuming nature of European football for Celtic means that there has been little chatter about the club’s trip to Hamilton this afternoon.
The fall-out from a floppy header by Efe Ambrose on Thursday night has made sure of that. In proving pivotal to Celtic squandering a two-goal advantage against Fenerbahce, events in the Europa League tie in Glasgow continue to reverberate.
Minds can’t be made up about what kind of position Celtic find themselves in following draws against Group A’s top two seeds – the first coming in Amsterdam against Ajax – ahead of their double-header with section leaders but expected makeweights Molde.
Yet, it is almost a year to the day since Hamilton Accies claimed pole position in the Premiership following a seismic first win at Celtic Park since 1938, an upset that is reason enough for Nir Bitton to see the dangers in dwelling on what could have been and what could be in continental competition for his club.
“Unfortunately, I remember last season against Hamilton at Celtic Park. The Scottish league is our bread and butter,” he said. “If we think too much about Europa League games against the likes of Fenerbahce, Ajax or Molde – we’ll get killed in the Scottish league. We have to be prepared for that and Sunday will be a tough game.
“It’s an artificial pitch which is something we’re not used to. We just have to deal with it – Molde play on one too as do a lot of teams in Europe.
“We played on some artificial surfaces last year in Europe so we know what to expect. We know everyone expects us to win every game here but it’s not as easy as that. We’ll do everything we can to beat Hamilton and go into the international break in a good mood.”
Israeli midfielder Bitton’s mood could be improved by the time he returns to club duty following his commitments for his national side. Should Israel beat Cyprus in Jerusalem on Saturday night and Wales avoid defeat in Bosnia, then the team from the Middle East will be guaranteed a crack at the play-offs to claim a first appearance in a European Championship tournament.
And when it comes to the Euro 2016s, Bitton’s team-mate Leigh Griffiths is entitled to want to dwell on Celtic’s efforts in continental competition. The Celtic’s striker’s challenge for the No.9 role in Gordon Strachan’s side currently occupied by Steven Fletcher is being given impetus by the growing proof he is providing that he can score at a higher level than the Scottish top flight.
Griffith’s instincts and execution were impressive in the strike against Fenerbahce that marked the third goal he has netted in Europe during a campaign in which he has netted 11 times across all competitions.
Even if Strachan appears to want to retain Fletcher as his focal point for the Poland game on which play-off prospects hinge, Griffiths is providing him with cause to question his loyalty to the out-of-touch Sunderland striker ahead of Thursday’s crunch game.
“My main aim was to establish myself here and I am still doing that but I am getting the nod here and I am happy,” said the Celtic striker.
“The next step is international football. If I get the nod then I will be delighted, if not I will sit on the bench and wait for my chance.
“If I am the one that is selected then I will try and give my all for the country because as I say it is an honour to pull on the jersey at any time. But there are a lot of guys who will be looking to get that No.9 jersey. I will have done myself no harm with the Fenerbahce goal.
“It was not easy against two giants, but I just had to put myself about and try and ruffle them up a bit, try and cause them problems and I think I done that and I got my goal. That is something I have always been confident of doing, to be fair.
“I have had to work on my upper body strength and my link-up play. I am still working on it now with the gaffer and JC [John Collins].”
It is Griffith’s body of work in front of goal that is pumping up his prospects.