Samaras in training but injury crisis far from over

THE sight of Georgios Samaras returning to light training at Lennoxtown yesterday would provide Celtic manager Gordon Strachan with a chink of light amid the injury gloom which has descended upon his squad in recent weeks.

Strachan will hope the Greek striker can provide him with at least one significant re-inforcement to his team as the countdown begins in earnest towards Celtic's crucial Champions League showdown with Aalborg in two weeks' time.

While Celtic face three SPL fixtures before the 25 November assignment in Denmark, starting with the visit of Kilmarnock to Parkhead tomorrow night, the defence of their domestic crown has so far been unhindered by the growing number of players unavailable to Strachan.

If they are to achieve the elusive away win in the Champions League which they need to ensure their European participation this season is extended beyond Christmas, however, they will surely require several of the more notable absentees to return to duty.

Samaras, who has missed the last seven games after undergoing surgery on a knee injury sustained while on international duty last month, appears to be the most likely of Celtic's currently crocked strikers to be back in time for the Aalborg tie.

Polish international goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who underwent knee surgery yesterday, has not yet been ruled out recovering in time for the match and there are hopes the current ailments of Shunsuke Nakamura, Aiden McGeady, Glenn Loovens and Shaun Maloney are not of the long-term variety.

Murdo MacLeod, the former Celtic assistant manager, believes the return of Samaras and at least two other players will be essential to any hope Strachan's team have of winning in Denmark.

"The injury list is quite incredible," observed MacLeod. "At the start of the season, looking at their squad, I felt they had at least two players for every position and would be able to cope with the usual injuries you pick up.

"But it is beginning to look worrying now, especially with the Aalborg game coming up. I think it is Celtic's biggest European tie for a few years. After having a tremendous record in the past couple of seasons, reaching the last 16 of the Champions League twice, the last thing Celtic want is to be knocked out of Europe altogether at this stage.

"The players' professional pride would be hurt if they couldn't finish above Aalborg in the group. I don't think the team which played against Motherwell on Saturday would be good enough to win in Aalborg.

"They do need at least one of the strikers back and it would be nice if they could get Boruc and McGeady back too. They need the technically-gifted players available for the European games.

"The injuries will eventually catch up with them, but it's hard to say when. They will cope with the domestic games coming up against Kilmarnock, Hamilton and St Mirren. The squad is strong enough to beat all three of them, with or without the injured players. But the European game is the big test."

FACT BOX

Celtic's Injured XI...

Artur Boruc: Polish keeper had knee surgery yesterday.

Jean-Joel Perrier Doumbe: French defender is sidelined by an Achilles problem.

Glenn Loovens: Dutch defender has missed the last three games with thigh strain.

Marc Crosas: Young Spanish midfielder pulled a hamstring at Inverness on 18 October.

Shaun Maloney: Limped out of Saturday's win over Motherwell with a dead leg.

Shunsuke Nakamura: Suffered a tear in his left knee in training last Thursday.

Aiden McGeady: Ruled out of last two games by a calf injury.

Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink: Tore a groin muscle against Hamilton on 5 October.

Georgios Samaras: Sustained knee damage on international duty with Greece last month.

Paul McGowan: Young striker sidelined by a knee injury.

Chris Killen: New Zealand international currently ruled out by knee problem.