No favours for Celtic or Rangers from fel­low Scot

The Herald - Herald Sport - - Football - HUGH MacDON­ALD and MARTIN GREIG Full draw, Page 11

GOR­DON STR ACHAN be­lieves Celtic’s ex­pe­ri­ence in reach­ing the last 16 of the Cham­pi­ons League will stand his side in good stead as they ven­ture into the tough­est of qual­i­fy­ing tests against Spar­tak Moscow.

Stra­chan, who last night de­scribed reach­ing the knock­out stages of the Cham­pi­ons League as a bet­ter achieve­ment than win­ning the Scot­tish Cup, said of the af­ter­math of Celtic’s most suc­cess­ful Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign: “I see a dif­fer­ence in the younger play­ers – the O’Deas, the McManuses and [Lee] Nay­lor­who is young to this type of foot­ball.”

He added of the run that ended with a Kaka goal in ex­tra-time at San Siro: “As the game went longer and longer against Mi­lan, you thought [of the young Celtic play­ers], ‘They are re­ally en­joy­ing this’.’’

Asked if this ex­pe­ri­ence would be ben­e­fi­cial in Moscow, Stra­chan said: “It’s help­ful.”

Nay­lor may be new to the Cham­pi­ons League, but no one could ac­cuse him of hav­ing a con­fi­dence short­fall. Nei­ther should he, with a league and Scot­tish Cup win­ner’s medal to his name and a sea­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence of Europe’s elite club com­pe­ti­tion un­der his belt.

The English­man was a stal­wart in the club’s run to the last 16 last sea­son and is bullish about their prospects of over­com­ing Spar­tak Moscow in a cou­ple of weeks’ time.

“When you’ve done what we did last sea­son, got to the last 16, won the cup, won the league, and the way we did it, then it just breeds con­fi­dence among ev­ery­one,” he re­flected.

“Even peo­ple that come to the club get a new-found con­fi­dence, and there’s just an air about the place. Ev­ery­one is smil­ing and jok­ing. [Last sea­son’s Cham­pi­ons League] was a great ex­pe­ri­ence, play­ing against the top play­ers in the world. I thought I went out and did a good job.”

Spar­tak are half­way through their sea­son do­mes­tic sea­son, while Celtic’s will only be two weeks old when the first leg

comes around on Au­gust 15. An in­dif­fer­ent pre-sea­son has pre­ceded the start of the new cam­paign, which be­gins against Kil­marnock to­mor­row, but Nay­lor is con­fi­dent they will be up to full speed by the time they take on the Rus­sians.

“I know that they are half­way through the sea­son, but we got our match fit­ness up dur­ing pre-sea­son, we’ll have one or two games un­der our belt by then and there is no doubt we’ll be ready,” he said. “It makes no dif­fer­ence [whether they are home or away first]. I just can’t wait to get it done and dusted. As long as we go out and do what we can do then there’s no doubt in my mind we will get through.”

Celtic must find form quickly in their open­ing two league matches, against Kil­marnock and Falkirk, ahead of their first leg with Spar­tak. Just four­wins in eight pre-sea­son games was not ideal prepa­ra­tion, though their 1-0 vic­tory over Parma last week­end was an en­cour­ag­ing por­tent.

Nay­lor, though, dis­re­garded the pre-sea­son de­fi­cien­cies. “I take noth­ing from pre-sea­son apart from get­ting my fit­ness,” he said. “Ob­vi­ously you’d like to score goals and we didn’t do that in parts, but we were get­ting our match fit­ness and peaked at the right time. If you start wor­ry­ing about pre-sea­son games you’ll get nowhere.”

The in­evitable con­se­quence of Nay­lor’s ex­cel­lent open­ing sea­son at Park­head, af­ter join­ing from Wolves last sum­mer, was in­ter­est south of the border. He was linked with a move to Ful­ham but, de­spite his fam­ily still be­ing based in Eng­land, was not in­ter­ested in the move. “I’m happy here at Celtic. I’m do­ing a good job and en­joy­ing my foot­ball. I heard it was in the pa­per but I didn’t hear any­thing about it my­self. I’ve got a three-year deal.”

More press­ing mat­ters await Nay­lor and his team-mates with Spar­tak Moscow loom­ing.

Stra­chan be­moaned the lack of the op­por­tu­nity to run the rule over Spar­tak, though Tom O’Neill and Ray Clarke, of Celtic’s scout­ing staff, will watch the Moscow side

“I don’t be­lieve any­body who picked Spar­tak Moscow­would be jump­ing for joy. Their his­tory is good, their stan­dard of foot­ball is good. It’s go­ing to be a right hard game,” said the Celtic man­ager, who also ex­pressed con­cern over play­ing on an ar­ti­fi­cial sur­face.

Stra­chan never played in Rus­sia on ei­ther club or in­ter­na­tional duty but spoke of one episode be­hind the Iron Cur­tain while with Aberdeen in the 1978-79 Euro­pean Cup Win­ners’ Cup against Marek Stanke of Bul­garia.

“Wil­lie Gar­ner broke his leg. They sent him to a cabin with a tar­pau­lin down the mid­dle. He had to sit to wait to get his leg set and on the other side of the tar­pau­lin was a wee girl get­ting her leg am­pu­tated.

“He could see through the tar­pau­lin. It was the long­est two-hour wait of his life. The sweat was pour­ing off him.”

The drama was not over for Gar­ner, whose leg swelled up af­ter the op­er­a­tion; he had to have his plas­ter cut open be­fore fly­ing home.

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