Celtic 1-1 Inter Milan: Injury worries hit Celtic ahead of Euro tie
NEIL Lennon will learn this morning whether Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes will be fit enough to feature in Celtic’s Champions League qualifier against HJK Helsinki on Wednesday after the pair picked up hefty ankle knocks in Saturday’s encouraging 1-1 draw with Inter Milan at Parkhead.
Scorers: Celtic - Commons (41); Inter Milan - Palacio (89)
Commons capped a solid performance with Celtic’s goal against the Italian giants, but the Scotland winger hobbled off towards the end leaving his side to finish the game with ten men after they had used all their outfield substitutes. Inter took advantage by equalising through Rodrigo Palacio in the final minute.
Striker Stokes had earlier left the field on a stretcher after blocking a first-half clearance by Esteban Cambiasso, and the Irishman is also a major concern ahead of the first leg of the Celtic’s third qualifying round first leg against the Finnish side.
The Celtic manager said after the game: “They both have badly twisted ankles so the next 24 hours are really important as to how they react. I think Kris would be a bigger doubt at the minute than Anthony, but I will give them as long possible to see if they can recover for the game on Wednesday.
“Anthony was a blocked challenge while Kris seemed to slip on the turf and go over on it. Sometimes they can be the worst ones, when there is nobody near you. All your weight can go on the supporting leg, so he was quite swollen almost immediately. I don’t think there is any lasting damage, but it might be a push for him to be fit for Wednesday.”
The draw against Milan at least arrested a poor run of pre-season results for Celtic, which included a heavy defeat in Amsterdam against Ajax and an insipid 1-0 defeat at home to Norwich. Adam Matthews shrugged off those setbacks to claim the Parkhead side are ready for the crucial clash with Helsinki.
Despite just one win in six warm-up games ahead of the visit of the Finnish club, the Wales full-back saw enough against Inter to give him confidence.
“We haven’t done ourselves justice this pre-season performance-wise,” said Matthews. “Ajax was an eye-opener for us. I think that is where we want to be and we showed we have improved since.
“But yesterday I think it all came together. I think everyone played their best game of the pre-season so it is a good sign for us. We started the game well and kept it going and were unlucky not to get a victory in the end. We pushed a top-class team all the way and I thought we deserved to get the win.”
HJK Helsinki won 9-1 on aggregate against KR Reykjavik in the last round and are halfway through their season. Nevertheless, Celtic are favourites to go through and Matthews believes the Hoops can live with the expectancy.
“You always have pressure at a club like Celtic,” he said. “I think it will be massive if we can get through to the Champions League. But we know it’s going to be a tough game so we have to be at 100 per cent and we are looking forward to it.
“It will obviously give them a slight advantage [to have played so many competitive games], but we have had a good pre-season. We have done a lot of conditioning so we are fully confident we can match them for 90 minutes and do a job.”
“We picked up a few knocks which hasn’t helped, but everyone put a good shift in and a good performance. Hopefully they are not too serious and they will be fighting fit for Wednesday.”
Lennon was more optimistic when explaining the absence on Saturday of Scott Brown, Kelvin Wilson, Thomas Rogne, James Forrest and Beram Kayal. He said: “Brown is just precautionary. He is still coming back from surgery in June so we don’t want to overwork him.
“Rogne was rested. James got a bang on his foot in training, had it X-rayed this morning and he should be OK. Kelvin Wilson has shin splints; you get them at this time of the year with hard grounds. He has been for a scan and it is some soft tissue, so he should be okay for Wednesday. Beram Kayal has done some extra work and will train on Monday as well.”
Lennon is also confident his side are in good enough shape to give a bold show against HJK Helsinki.
He said: “We played some very good football against a very good side, scored a great goal and created lots of chances. So to say that is the best we have played pre-season would be an understatement. We blooded some of the kids at the end and we were down to ten men for the last 15 minutes and conceded a late goal, but that was an irrelevance.
“I would like to win Wednesday’s game and win it by as much as possible, but having watched Helsinki I know it’s going to be a really hard game. They have a bit of pace in their team, particularly in wide areas.
“They have very fit players who know their way around the pitch and they are going to be hard to beat, to break down, so the onus is on us to try to do that. And we will have to be patient. I think physically we are in good condition and the football is starting to look better, so I think we are ready.”
There was a minute’s applause before kick-off in memory of late Celtic forward Joe McBride who died this month. McBride was a key member of the Lisbon Lions’ squad, scoring 35 goals in 26 games in the 1966/67 season until a knee injury ruled him out of the later stages of the triumphant European Cup campaign. There was a parade of Lisbon Lions, as well as former Celtic players who participated in the 1972 meeting between the clubs, including Billy McNeill, Sean Fallon, John Clark, Stevie Chalmers, Jim Craig, Bertie Auld and John Fallon, along with George Connelly, Tommy Callaghan, Dixie Deans, Pat McCluskey and Evan Williams.
Celtic enjoyed plenty of early possession and pressure and Mulgrew headed a Commons corner past the far post in the fourth minute. Then Commons’ drive from 25 yards was held by Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic, who made a better save at his near post from Stokes five minutes later following another Hoops corner.
Inter were let off the hook again when Lustig headed a Commons corner over the bar from six yards out.
Finally, five minutes from the break, Celtic forged ahead. Mulgrew picked out Commons with a free-kick and the Scotland international took a touch before sending a looping volley over the head of the helpless Handanovic.
Commons began the second half by firing a long-range drive just over the bar. He also forced a save by Handanovic in the 76th minute with a delightful left-footed chip that appeared to be heading towards the far corner before it was clawed away by the Slovenia keeper.
With Celtic down to ten men, Inter took advantage with moments remaining, Palacio turning the ball into the net after a Marko Livaja cutback.
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