Celtic find strength in Scottish depth

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The Independent Football

Aside from the fact that Celtic are on course for the Champions' League knock-out stages after Wednesday's impressive 3-0 victory over Benfica, the most heartening aspect of the win was it was achieved with four major players missing.

Neither Thomas Gravesen nor Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, both purchased specifically for an assault on Europe, were fit, while Gordon Strachan's first-choice left winger, Aiden McGeady, and right-back, Mark Wilson, were also absent.

Strength in depth is something that any side with true ambition at this level needs, and while Strachan is still building, his back-up men are starting to prove their worth.

Kenny Miller shone in place of Vennegoor, scoring twice and creating the third for Stephen Pearson. Shaun Maloney deputised ably for McGeady while Evander Sno, 19, was competent as Gravesen's stand-in. The veteran Paul Telfer, covering for Wilson, continues to vindicate Strachan's faith in hiring him at every club he has managed.

With two wins from three Group F games, Celtic have become favourites to join Manchester United in graduating from the section. A win at Benfica in a fortnight would all but secure a berth in the knock-out phase for the first time. A draw would still leave Celtic in a strong position while even defeat would leave their fate in their own hands with a home game against United (who will almost certainly be through by then) and a trip to Copenhagen to follow.

Strachan has been buoyed by his players' spirit on the big stage. "We are in a good position now and one of the really good things [about Wednesday] was that there were a lot of Scottish lads out there in that team."

Five Scots started, including Gary Caldwell at centre-half and Miller, both blossoming of late at international level as their country is resurgent. Maloney and Pearson have also been capped and have futures with Scotland, where the key has been performances greater than the sum of their parts. Just as with Celtic on Wednesday, as Miller modestly agreed. "Everyone worked hard for each other all over the pitch and fortunately the chances fell my way."