Celtic: Deila rules out fears over Stjarnan pitch

Stjarnan's modest Samsungvollur ground with its low grade artificial pitch plays host to Celtic tonight. Picture: Robert Perry
Stjarnan's modest Samsungvollur ground with its low grade artificial pitch plays host to Celtic tonight. Picture: Robert Perry
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IT MAY be sponsored by one of the world’s leading technology companies but there is nothing cutting edge about the Samsungvollur ground where Celtic put their Champions League ambitions on the line tonight.

An unforgiving artificial playing surface which meets minimum Uefa requirements, along with a notorious wind tunnel effect created by the one-stand set-up at the 1,400-capacity venue, provide the stark backdrop for Ronny Deila’s team to protect their 2-0 first-leg lead against Icelandic champions Stjarnan.

Ronny Deila. Picture: SNS

Ronny Deila. Picture: SNS

But if the Celtic manager is in any way nervous about the potential for embarrassment in a tie he and his players dare not lose at this opening stage of their European quest, he disguised it completely as they settled into their Reykjavik base last night.

Despite the warnings about the vagaries of Stjarnan’s pitch, where Motherwell and Polish champions Lech Poznan were among those who came a cropper in the Europa League last season, Deila expressed supreme confidence in Celtic’s ability to successfully adapt to the conditions.

He is aware that Stjarnan are seeking every possible advantage in their bid to turn the tie around by keeping it at the Samsungvollur, having seen a more lucrative move to the national stadium in Reykjavik backfire when they lost 3-0 to Inter Milan in the Europa League play-off round.

Deila, however, is comforted by Celtic’s most recent form on synthetic playing surfaces on which they recorded victories at both New Douglas Park and Rugby Park last season with some of their most effective performances of the campaign.

The pitch is artificial, so it can’t be that bad. It’s better than a very bad grass pitch

Ronny Deila

“The pitch is artificial, so it can’t be that bad,” said Deila. “It’s better than a very, very bad grass pitch. We have played good games on artificial pitches last season. If we are at our best, we have an advantage playing on an artificial pitch.

“It’s all just part of the challenge of playing in Europe. Artificial pitches are not a problem, they are easy to play on.

“But you are always best at your own stadium, so that is an advantage for Stjarnan and probably why they are playing the game there and not at the national stadium.”

Celtic’s lack of sharpness in front of goal restricted them to their 2-0 advantage in Glasgow last Wednesday provided by goals from Dedryck Boyata and Stefan Johansen.

Deila, though, is satisfied at the early season indicators being provided by his players who enjoyed a 4-1 friendly victory over Eibar in Spain at the weekend.

“The most important thing for us is to continue playing the way we have been playing lately,” he added.

“We have things to develop over time. We need to be very good defensively as a unit, be compact and balanced. We need to be direct when we have the opportunities.

“We need to keep on producing chances and hopefully we will be even more effective than we were in the first leg and more like we were at the weekend in the game against Eibar.

“We scored 50 or 60 per cent of our chances, which is very good. I think we are going in the right direction all the time and I’m just looking forward to every game now.

“We are getting better in every game.”

A third qualifying round tie against either Azerbaijani champions Qarabag or Macedonian side Rudar Pljevlja, who are locked at 0-0 from their first leg, awaits if Celtic progress and Deila is backing his team to do so convincingly.

“I want us to win the game over here and I expect us to score,” he said.

“Stjarnan will have to go forward a little bit more but I think they will try to be compact as well again.

“They can’t go to the centre of the pitch because they know they will be punished. They will be patient but if they get the game the way they want, they will be more and more offensive.

“Their manager is still confident, of course, because every manager has to believe in his team. If he said they had no chance, then why are they playing the game?

“Of course there is always a chance for them but we have a very good result from the first leg. I feel 2-0 should be enough but you never know, so we have to take this game very seriously. Hopefully we will not only win the game, but use it to develop and improve as a team.”

Virgil van Dijk returns from a one-match European suspension to join Boyata in central defence, meaning Charlie Mulgrew could get the nod at left-back ahead of Emilio Izaguirre.

With Kris Commons still absent with a toe injury, Deila’s main selection dilemma would appear to be whether he selects Leigh Griffiths or Nadir Ciftci in the central striking position.

Ciftci, who can only play in Europe until his six-match domestic ban expires, was preferred in the first leg against Stjarnan but Griffiths staked a strong claim with his hat-trick in the victory over Eibar.

Regardless of the starting 11 he settles on, Deila is determined there will be no repeat of the argument over taking penalties which preceded Griffiths’ failure to make it 3-0 from the spot last week after a fight for the ball with Johansen.

“I have talked about the penalties with the players,” confirmed Deila.

“It has to be two things – we have to be clear about who has the responsibility and we also have to deal with these situations in a better way than we did last week.

“But we will see if Leigh is still on penalties for this game. Our first-team coach John Kennedy has the responsibility for deciding that – he’s much better on set plays than me!”

It would be no joking matter for Deila if Celtic were to capitulate tonight and exit the tournament at a stage which provides no safety net of dropping into the Europa League.

But the serious money should be on them getting the job done with something to spare.