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Neil and pray for Celtic home rule

By Ronnie Esplin

Celtic manager Neil Lennon admits a home defeat to Ajax will end any hopes his side still harbour of progressing in the Champions League.

The Hoops head into tonight's clash at Celtic Park bottom of Group H and having failed to take any points from their opening two games against AC Milan and Barcelona.

Back-to-back games against the Dutch outfit – who sit on one point – will now be crucial to Celtic's chances of repeating last year's feat of reaching the knockout stages.

Asked if this was a must-win game for his players, Lennon said: "No, it's a must not get beat.

"I'm confident with this team that we can perform away from home as well, however winning this game would put us in a really good position in the group.

"Losing the game would probably end our aspirations for trying to qualify."

With Adam Matthews out for the rest of the year after shoulder surgery and skipper Scott Brown suspended, Lennon was dealt a further selection blow with the news that Kris Commons is out of this match with a hamstring strain suffered in the 1-1 draw against Hibernian.

The Celtic boss said: "We are hoping it's not as bad as a tear but he won't make the match.

"He might make the corresponding game in Amsterdam, though.

"He's been for a scan and we are waiting on confirmation but he's feeling a lot better now."

The absence of Commons could mean more of an onus on James Forrest to provide the creative spark, after he recently returned to action following a virus.

Lennon said: "He's an important player. What has delighted me is that he looks fit.

"The virus took a lot out of him but when he plays and he's fit and healthy, he's a huge player for Celtic. It's great to have him back.

"The timing is compounded by the loss of Kris but having James back is such a huge boost for everyone."

Lennon – who watched Ajax draw 1-1 with FC Twente in the Eredivisie at the weekend – added: "It's going to be difficult anyway, regardless of personnel and whether we had Scott and Kris.

"I watched Ajax on Saturday night and they were very strong in the second-half and probably deserved to get something out of the game.

"They are going to give us problems with the way they move the ball, with the way they play the game.

"They've got good pace in their team in wide areas but we're ready and looking forward to it.

"We know what's at stake but the fact we are at home gives us, I think, a slight heads up."

Celtic striker Georgios Samaras is confident the Hoops can cope with their mounting selection issues.

He said: "Broony (Brown) is our leader, our captain, and it's a big blow for us, but I think we have the strength and the quality in our squad to replace him.

"Kris is the same as Broony. He is a key player for us, he creates a lot for the strikers.

"But we have the quality in the squad to replace anyone in the team, even though it's a big blow for us."

Asked what he expects from the Dutch side, Samaras – who spent four years in Holland with Heerenveen – said: "The same as the last 100 years.

"They have a typical Dutch system, they try to pass the ball, they play good attacking football and they try to win the game.

"That's what Ajax have done all these years and that's what they will do tomorrow.

"They won't change their philosophy because they are playing against us here at Celtic Park.

"I played in Holland and I know exactly the way they play in Dutch football. I don't think they are going to change anything."

On Celtic's ailing campaign so far, Samaras added: "I think we lost both of the games through really small details.

"Sometimes small details make the difference in games.

"We made some mistakes that cost us and hopefully in the next games we will be more focused.

"We will try to be more competitive and, when we have chances, put them in the back of the net."

Ajax will bring with them a young side to the east end of Glasgow and boss Lennon hopes Celtic's fans will ensure they are confronted with an intimidating atmosphere at Parkhead.

He said: "It will be a different environment for them and a different atmosphere to what some of them are used to.

"Barcelona are far more experienced and knew what to expect, having been here last year.

"For some of the Ajax players, playing here for the first time, it might be something new.

"We know our fans will bring a huge amount of noise and passion to the stadium and I'm hoping that will fire our players up."

Belfast Telegraph


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