Celtic search for old glory in deep south

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The Independent Online
Football

Times have been so thin for so long for Celtic fans that they are desperate for their side to achieve a good result in far-off Georgia today. Just a little taste of European success would be enough to encourage the fans to believe that the glory days have not gone for good.

Simon Donnelly, who has made an impressive start to the season in his new role on the right side of Celtic's midfield, believes the former European champions can start the ball rolling in that direction by beating Dynamo Batumi tonight in the first leg of their Cup-Winners' Cup first-round tie.

Donnelly was superb on Sunday when he was instrumental in Celtic's 3- 2 Scottish Premier Division victory at Aberdeen, and he aims to carry that form through into his European debut today.

"My best memory of Celtic in Europe is the Uefa Cup match at home to Cologne in September 1992. I had just signed, and watched from the stand with a few of the younger players. The lift the team got from the supporters that night was incredible and carried them to a 3-0 victory which overturned the 2-0 deficit from the first leg," he said.

"I want to be part of those kind of nights and believe we should go all out for a win in Batumi to help set us up for a big night at Parkhead."

Donnelly believes much of his sparkling start to the season can be attributed to dropping back into midfield. "I'm enjoying my new role. I'd never played there before this season but I'm happy with my performances this year," he said.

The preparations for this tricky encounter have not gone as smoothly as Celtic's manager, Tommy Burns, would have liked, with midfielder Paul McStay and striker Pierre van Hooijdonk ruled out through injury and defender Tosh McKinlay doubtful with a back strain.

Burns, presiding over his first European game as a manager, is awaiting the result of a fitness test on the consistent left-back before naming his side, but the absence of the former Hearts man would be a blow and could mean a defensive reshuffle.

The build-up to the match has been overshadowed by the arduous journey Celtic faced to the Georgian sea port. The team was forced to wait an hour in sweltering heat at Batumi airport before being allowed through customs.

Celtic's hotel is very basic but despite the social problems in Georgia, which broke away from the Soviet Union only fours years ago, football remains a passion and a welcome diversion from the daily grind. This is reflected in the incentive on offer to the Batumi players to reach the next round. The squad's average wage is only about pounds 350 a month but they are reputedly in line for a pounds 3,500 bonus if they knock out Celtic.

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