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Brown: Celtic are sticking by under-fire winger Tonev

By Ronnie Esplin

Skipper Scott Brown insists the Celtic dressing room is right behind race row winger Aleksandar Tonev. The Bulgarian winger - on loan from Aston Villa - was suspended by the Scottish Football Association for seven matches for using "offensive, insulting and abusive language of a racist nature'' towards Aberdeen defender Shay Logan when the two teams met in September.

Tonev missed the 1-0 home Premiership win over Inverness at the weekend but travelled to Romania with the rest of the Hoops' squad for the Europa League clash with Astra Giurgiu tonight.

Celtic appealed the decision yesterday and at the Hoops' pre-match press conference in Bucharest, the Scotland midfielder offered his thoughts on the issue.

He said: "We all stick by him. We know he didn't say it, so I think that's the main thing and all the lads in the dressing room believe him.

"I don't think he needs to explain himself. We all believe him, he says he didn't do it and we stand by him.

"We know Aleksandar doesn't come in and lie. He talks to everyone in that changing room so we have no problem."

Manager Ronny Deila, who watched striker Anthony Stokes turn up at the airport before getting sent home with a sore throat and a fever, also remains steadfast behind Tonev, although he admits it will be easier to play him against Astra than against Aberdeen at Pittodrie at the weekend.

He said: "We will talk with him. I think it is easier to play in Europe than to play in Scotland right now, because of what is happening and also because it is also against Aberdeen, so it will be tougher to play than right now.

"I don't think anyone in Romania is interested in that case.

"I understand that it is a tough situation for him and the club. We have put in the appeal and hopefully we get that right because this is a very hard penalty when it is word against word, and we believe the player."

Assistant manager John Collins confirmed the Parkhead club would appeal but was reluctant to be drawn on the issue.

He said: "I don't want to get involved in that. I am not allowed to comment. We will back Aleksandar. I am led to believe the appeal will go in.

"Training has been normal. Obviously he is disappointed with the verdict but he has to focus on his football.

"There is no concern, he will be available. He will be desperate to play, like all the rest of the players."

Tonev's national team have also backed the on-loan Aston Villa winger. The Bulgarian governing body hit out the at the SFA on Tuesday for punishing the 24-year-old without evidence beyond Logan's word.

A statement read: "In connection with the punishment for racism, which Bulgarian international Aleksandar Tonev received from the Scottish Football Association, the Bulgarian Football Union would like to express its full support for the player.

"We join the position of his club Celtic and express willingness to use every possible set of international football laws to help reveal the truth.

"And in this case it is undeniable - a young and talented Bulgarian footballer is charged and punished for an offence he allegedly did not commit and no evidence of his guilt.

"With the Bulgarian national team, Aleksandar Tonev has always been a role model, he displays his heart and soul on the field and has never violated the principles of fair play in the game of football. So he will continue to be part of the national team of Bulgaria."

Meanwhile, Craig Gordon looks set to return in goal for Celtic tonight after missing the 1-0 home Scottish Premiership win over Inverness after feeling some pain in his knee.

Gordon is one of the reasons Celtic sit level with Salzburg on seven points from three games at the top of Group D, following their 2-1 win over Astra in Glasgow last month.

Collins said: "He is back training yesterday and available.

"There are no easy games in Europe, there are no poor teams and the keeper has been called upon and done very well.

"They have some good football players, they move the ball well and if we are not on our toes they will create chances.

"A win would put us in an excellent position, with 10 points, going into the last two games."

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