Brown and out: Cap­tain faces months on side­lines

IN­JURY CRI­SIS Mid­field set­back ahead of Ajax means Celtic will be forced to strengthen squad in Jan­uary

The Herald - Sport - - FRONT PAGE - MATTHEW LIND­SAY CHIEF FOOT­BALL WRITER

RONNY DEILA will at­tempt to strengthen his Celtic squad with ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers dur­ing the Jan­uary trans­fer win­dow af­ter Scott Brown was ruled out for up to three months with lig­a­ment dam­age.

Deila re­vealed that Brown, his in­flu­en­tial cap­tain and cen­tral mid­fielder, would be side­lined for be­tween eight and 12 weeks yes­ter­day as he looked ahead to the Europa League meet­ing with Ajax.

The Scot­land in­ter­na­tion­al­ist limped off to­wards the end of the Park­head club’s Lad­brokes Premier­ship match against Kil­marnock on Satur­day.

A scan has since re­vealed the in­jury he suf­fered, which Celtic med­i­cal staff are hop­ing will not re­quire surgery, was worse than first feared.

The loss of the player is a huge blow to Deila ahead of a Group A meet­ing with Ajax this evening which his side must win to keep alive their hopes of reach­ing the last 32 of the Europa League.

He will also be with­out Kris Com­mons, who will be un­avail­able due to ill­ness and in­jury, as well as Nir Bitton and Ste­fan Jo­hansen, who are both sus­pended, for the game against the Ere­di­visie lead­ers.

The ex­tended ab­sence of Brown could also im­pact on their bid to win a fifth con­sec­u­tive Scot­tish ti­tle and land the League Cup and Scot­tish Cup dur­ing the 2015/16 cam­paign.

The Celtic trans­fer pol­icy has been to tar­get promis­ing young play­ers at af­ford­able prices who can be de­vel­oped and sold on for a profit. How­ever, Deila ad­mit­ted that he will now look to bring in se­nior play­ers to bol­ster his squad and com­pen­sate for the loss of key in­di­vid­u­als at the start of next year.

“I think it is very im­por­tant now in Jan­uary that we look for play­ers who have ex­pe­ri­ence,” he said. “We have a lot of tal­ent, but you need lead­ers, or par­ents to the play­ers, to get them to grow. I would rather have one or two play­ers that can stretch the level and have ex­pe­ri­ence than have five young­sters who are tal­ented play­ers be­cause you can’t get through all the ties.

“Ryan Christie is com­ing, Scott Al­lan, [Cal­lum] McGre­gor, [Ai­den] Nes­bitt; you need lead­ers around th­ese young boys to get the best of out of them.

“We know what kind of bud­get we have. It is pos­si­ble. We have to look at play­ers who are im­por­tant in their teams and are not in the big­gest leagues.

“You don’t get a guy from the Premier League who is play­ing week in, week out. We get play­ers who are, in their way, not good enough for that level, but who are straight un­der and want to have a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge.”

Deila ex­pressed sym­pa­thy for Brown, but in­sisted that Celtic could over­come Ajax and progress to the knock­out rounds of the Europa League for the sec­ond sea­son run­ning. “It is just very un­lucky,” he said. “He wanted to play. He was back and was in good shape. But also for our­selves it is a blow.

“But it is noth­ing to be sad about. You just have to keep on work­ing. There are a lot of play­ers who have worked hard all sea­son who will get a new chance now.

“We have Scott Al­lan, Stu­art Arm­strong, Cal­lum McGre­gor, who can play cen­trally in the pitch. We are go­ing to fill the gaps. It is go­ing to be a young team. But it is a young team Ajax have as well. Scott [Brown] has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and is im­por­tant for the team. But this gives peo­ple the pos­si­bil­ity to step up and be­come that leader we are talk­ing about.”

An­thony Stokes, the Repub­lic of Ire­land in­ter­na­tion­al­ist who has not fea­tured in the Celtic first team since a win over Dundee United back in Au­gust, could be brought back. “He is avail­able,” said Deila. “He is in our thoughts and he is in the squad.”

Deila will be forced to re­jig his start­ing line-up, field in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers lack­ing in re­cent game time and may have to change for­ma­tion

WHAT was a must-win game for Ronny Deila and Celtic has sud­denly be­come some­thing akin to a th­ey­can’t-pos­si­bly-win game. Over­com­ing an Ajax team which is cur­rently lead­ing the Ere­di­visie this evening and keep­ing alive their slim hopes of reach­ing the Europa League knock­out stages was al­ways go­ing to be a chal­lenge.

The Scot­tish cham­pi­ons have failed to pro­duce a wholly con­vinc­ing 90 minute per­for­mance in their four Group A fix­tures to date. They per­formed woe­fully in suc­ces­sive de­feats to mid-ta­ble Nor­we­gian ri­vals Molde in their last two out­ings and slumped to a 5-2 ag­gre­gate de­feat.

Throw in the sus­pen­sion of Nir Bitton, ar­guably their most im­pres­sive per­former this sea­son, and Ste­fan Jo­hansen, a first team reg­u­lar, on top of that un­con­vinc­ing form and Celtic al­ways had their work cut out.

Now, though, that Scott Brown and Kris Com­mons, the heart­beat of the team and the main cre­ative spark up front, have been ruled out their ob­jec­tive seems a for­lorn hope.

Deila will be forced to re­jig his start­ing line-up, field in­ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers lack­ing in re­cent game time and may also have to de­vi­ate from his favoured 4-2-3-1 for­ma­tion against for­mi­da­ble op­po­nents as a re­sult of the loss of Brown and Com­mons.

The likes of Scott Al­lan, Efe Am­brose, Stu­art Arm­strong, Gary Mackay-Steven, Tom Rogic and even the lesser spot­ted An­thony Stokes could all be called upon to play im­por­tant roles against Frank de Boer’s side tonight.

It is un­likely that Char­lie Mulgrew, who has re­turned to full train­ing at Len­nox­town this week af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a thigh in­jury and who would have slot­ted into one of the va­cant sit­ting mid­fielder’s berths com­fort­ably, will fea­ture from the start.

The Celtic man­ager, though, is hope­ful that one or more of his charges can grasp their op­por­tu­nity and com­pen­sate for the loss of their more es­tab­lished team mates – and re­mains op­ti­mistic vic­tory can be se­cured.

“You need peo­ple to take re­spon­si­bil­ity out there,” he said. “If we are go­ing to do some­thing in Europe now and in the fu­ture, we need play­ers who can adapt to that level and be lead­ers on the pitch. Th­ese play­ers need to step up and be men.

“It’s in our hands. We need to win. Maybe a draw would do, but I don’t think that. We have to go for three points and have 90 min­utes to do that. We will look to do a lot of the things we did against Fener­bahce, while avoid­ing the easy mis­takes. We have good play­ers, so I have a be­lief we can do it.

“There is noth­ing to fear. The worst thing that can hap­pen is that you can lose. You don’t lose your life, things will go on.

“The worst thing that you can do is go onto the pitch and not give 100 per cent, ei­ther keep­ing some­thing back or be­ing afraid to do what you want. That’s what I mean about be­ing fear­less; go on and show what you are ca­pa­ble of and you’ll get what you de­serve.”

Ajax scored four goals from set pieces in their 5-1 win over Cam­buur in the Am­s­ter­dam ArenA on Satur­day. Given the prob­lems which Celtic have ex­pe­ri­enced in this area in Europe this sea­son that is, de­spite the avail­abil­ity of cen­tre half Jozo Simunovic again, omi­nous for the hosts.

How­ever, Deila has worked hard to ad­dress his side’s fail­ings at cor­ners and free-kicks and is adamant they can nul­lify the threat the visi­tors, who they drew 2-2 with away from home back in Septem­ber, pose in those sit­u­a­tions.

“We are pre­pared for Ajax and we are pre­pared for that,” he said. “It was the same in Am­s­ter­dam, but we also scored the same way there.

“They have weak­nesses we are also aware of and it is down to us to play with a lot of the same things we did in Am­s­ter­dam. We know Ajax are of­fen­sive and we’ll get our chances if we de­fend in the right way and take them when they are un­bal­anced.”

Much will, as ever, be ex­pected of Leigh Grif­fiths up front if he is, as ex­pected, given the nod to start. The in-form striker be­lieves Ajax have weak­nesses which he can ex­ploit af­ter see­ing footage of their lat­est out­ing in the Nether­lands at the week­end.

“We know we can nul­lify them in cer­tain ar­eas,” he said. “They are dan­ger­ous on the counter at­tack, but they are vul­ner­a­ble as well as they leave big spa­ces in be­hind.

“That suits me. I like to get in be­hind de­fences and stretch the game as much as I can. The wingers we have – whether it’s James [For­rest], Stu­art [Arm­strong] or Gary [Mackay-Steven] – like to get in to those spa­ces as well.”

Deila has come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure as a con­se­quence of Celtic’s dis­ap­point­ing show­ings in Europe dur­ing the 2015/16 cam­paign. This out­ing was seen as piv­otal to the 40-year-old’s fu­ture.

The loss of so many key play­ers will be dam­ag­ing to his team’s hopes of win­ning their last two Europa League group games and go­ing through to the last 32 of the com­pe­ti­tion. But, by a strange quirk of fate, it could pro­long his ca­reer in Scot­land.

How can the man­ager be blamed for a loss when al­most half of the out­field play­ers he would or­di­nar­ily have fielded are un­avail­able?

Pic­ture: SNS

RULED OUT: Celtic cap­tain Scott Brown could face 12 weeks out af­ter limp­ing off against Kil­marnock.

BRAVE: Celtic man­ager Ronny Deila wants his young play­ers to show no fear and em­brace the chance to play against qual­ity Euro­pean op­po­nents

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