Georgios Samaras out as Celtic are left with just one striker

CELTIC will attempt to increase their lead at the top of the SPL to seven points tonight with the services of just one striker after Georgios Samaras was ruled out of action for the next two weeks.

The Greek international limped out of Celtic's Scottish Cup fourth-round win at Berwick Rangers on Sunday with a hamstring injury and will miss the SPL leaders' trip to bottom of the table Hamilton Accies this evening and Saturday's meeting with Hibs at Easter Road.

With top scorer Gary Hooper and Daryl Murphy both still absent with ankle and calf injuries respectively, it leaves Celtic reliant on Anthony Stokes as they look to build on their 2-0 Old Firm victory at Ibrox last week which put them four points ahead of Rangers in the title race.

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"Anthony is the only fit striker we have," confirmed Celtic assistant manager Johan Mjallby. "Georgios will be out for up to 14 days, which is unfortunate after his great performance against Rangers at Ibrox.

"We are short of options up front, although we expect Hooper and Murphy to start training again within the next week. We could go with Anthony on his own up front against Hamilton, or sit down and see if anyone else can play as a striker."

Mjallby, meanwhile, insists Celtic remain hopeful Samaras will extend his stay at Celtic. The former Manchester City player is out of contract in the summer and has so far failed to agree a new deal, which could tempt Celtic to cash in on any offers for him during the current transfer window.

"From the club's point of view, you don't want a player to leave for nothing," said Mjallby. "You want to get some money back from him. But we think Georgios wants to stay. He's done well lately, but it will be a case of how much he wants to stay and if it can be agreed."

Celtic are still attempting to strengthen their striking options by securing Norwegian international Erik Huseklepp from Brann Bergen, with Mjallby seeking a quick resolution to the episode.

"We probably have to have a decision by the end of the week," he said. "If we can't sign Huseklepp, we have to look elsewhere. There are a few weeks left in the window, but you want a quick answer to know who you are working with until the end of the season.

"We are still in negotiations with Brann, but I don't know how close we are to an agreement. If it happens, great. If not, then we have to get on with it. We have identified a few other targets."If Celtic can win at New Douglas Park tonight and Easter Road at lunchtime on Saturday, they will move ten points clear of Rangers before the defending champions kick-off against Hamilton Accies at Ibrox on Saturday afternoon.

While Rangers currently have two games in hand, Mjallby believes achieving a double- digit lead would allow Celtic to strike a significant psychological blow.

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"It would put some pressure on Rangers," he said. "It's always better to have points on the board, rather than play catch-up. But we still need to win the matches. We have a tricky game against Hamilton. They are struggling in the league at the moment, but we have to play well there or we're in trouble.

"The positive thing for us is that we've been strong away from home this season and have defended well. It's good to have that confidence away from home."

Freddie Ljungberg is poised to make his SPL debut for Celtic tonight after enjoying 64 minutes of first-team action in the 2-0 Scottish Cup win at Shielfield Park. Mjallby was instrumental in Celtic signing his former Swedish international team-mate and is confident he will prove a major success in Scottish football. "When we heard Freddie was looking to play in Europe again, I tried to sell the club to him," said Mjallby.

"He has enough money already, but now he has a chance to come to a big club and win trophies. He could have earned more money at a middle-to-bottom English Premier League club, but here he has the chance to be a hero for a massive club. It helped that I was here and he was happy to train with us for a few days first.

"You can see he is still fit. He is an intelligent player and although he is not 100 per cent fit yet and doesn't walk straight into the team, we think he is going to be a great addition for us."

Meanwhile, Hamilton have completed the signing of Mickael Antoine-Curier until the end of the season.

The 27-year-old scored eight goals for Hamilton last season during a loan spell from Dundee, and was made redundant when the Dens Park club went into administration in October.