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Strachan sticks by deadly duo as Celtic bid for four in a row

Gordon Strachan will stick with his potent strike-force of Scott McDonald and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink for Celtic's Scottish Premier League opener against St Mirren at Parkhead tomorrow as he awaits the arrival of Marc Crosas from Barcelona.

The 20-year-old midfielder expects to complete his transfer to the Scottish champions over the weekend and the Catalans have reportedly confirmed a fee of around £1.2m has been agreed between both clubs.

Strachan, hoping to guide Celtic to the SPL crown for the fourth time in a row, looked to the future when discussing the imminent arrival of Crosas, saying: "Peter Lawwell (chief executive) is looking after tying up the loose ends.

"My part comes when he joins us and we try to make him a better player. And anybody who joins us will hopefully make us a better team.''

Celtic will almost certainly be without Barry Robson and their captain, Stephen McManus, although both trained yesterday.

Not that their likely absence troubled Strachan as the Parkhead manager contemplated the season that is about to unfold.

"We're all optimistic, with just a touch of pessimism because there's always the threat of something going wrong," said Strachan, covering his bases.

Rangers, of course, discovered earlier this week just how far matters can go awry, but Strachan insisted that he has given their travails little thought. "It's not part of my psyche. I have enough to concentrate on here.

"We had a good pre-season and the players are lively and fit, but I'm always glad when we get the friendlies out of the way. I don't enjoy them as much because they're not competitive.

"You know, I was sent off five times in friendlies and only once in 832 competitive games, which may tell you something.

"What keeps me motivated now? I enjoy coaching, being with the players and training. I love to see them celebrating winning games and trophies -- that's the best thing for me.

"As far as this season goes, I can't ask the players for any more in the way of character -- that's been tested.

"Physically they're getting better and better, so what I'm looking for is a greater ability to pass the ball 10 or 15 yards -- it's a priceless asset."

"We tried one or two things abroad and that will help us in our own European campaign but we will play 4-4-2 against St Mirren.

"I think fans like us playing that way and we feel comfortable that way.

"We have two strikers who scored 50 goals a season, so you try to find a system that compliments your best parts.''

Meanwhile, the Rangers Supporters' Assembly have given their backing to manager Walter Smith following a frank and honest meeting with Ibrox bosses at Murray Park yesterday following the team's humiliating midweek dismissal from the Champions League in Kaunas.

Fifteen delegates representing fans from all over the world were in attendance, along with Smith, chairman David Murray and chief executive Martin Bain.

After that debacle the Rangers fans will not relish opening their domestic campaign away to John Hughes's in-yer-face Falkirk side, which was never likely to be a tranquilising prospect.

The supporters who travelled to Lithuania have emphatically expressed the view that a repeat performance from the Ibrox players in the Falkirk Stadium in today's televised lunchtime curtain raiser to the SPL season would be bound to end in tears.

They will scarcely be comforted by Hughes' declaration of intent yesterday.

"What happened to Rangers in midweek has no bearing on how we will approach this game," Hughes said.

"The attitude of the players in pre-season has been excellent -- although quite a few of them have had the bad luck to pick up knocks -- and if we play the way we can play, then Rangers will know they've been in a game."

Few would doubt the truth of that forecast, least of all Walter Smith.

Belfast Telegraph


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