Neill rues 'dominant' Celtic's luck after Milan leave it late

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The Independent Football

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill insists that their latest sour Champions League experience has not quenched his desire to taste success in the competition.

Celtic manager Martin O'Neill insists that their latest sour Champions League experience has not quenched his desire to taste success in the competition.

The normally animated O'Neill looked depressed following his side's heartbreaking 3-1 defeat to AC Milan in the San Siro.

The result was their seventh straight away defeat in the Champions League group stages and left the Scottish champions with no points after two Group F matches.

But he revealed that the reverse had made him even more determined to rectify their disastrous record. "You have to get up again and go again," said O'Neill. "I have experienced great highs in my own career as a player and manager and I've experienced some low points as well. "But the reason I'm low after this is because we lost the way we did. If we had been battered in the game I would have taken it and said that's it.

"But the performance we put in is very hard to take but it gives me great hope." The post-mortem has already begun on another hard luck story which kicked them in the teeth with two goals in the last two minutes.

Stanislav Varga had cancelled out Andriy Shevchenko's opener but a great finish from substitute Filippo Inzaghi and a deflected Andrea Pirlo free-kick look to have ended Celtic's hopes of making it through to the knock-out stages for the first time.

Some questioned whether O'Neill had got it wrong by taking off John Hartson and on Momo Sylla with two minutes to go. Others will say that it was a tactical masterplan for Carlo Ancelotti to bring on Inzaghi. But, while O'Neill refused to comment on whether he would get the Nike sponsorship money to spend on new stars, he looked enviously at AC Milan's awesome strength in depth.

He said: "Now's not the time to be talking about strength in depth but there is no doubt that AC Milan have a greater strength in depth than us."

But, even though Celtic cannot compete with the Serie A giants in monetary terms, they had given the home side a scare with their courageous second-half fightback.

O'Neill was proud of his players' efforts but he admitted that most of them were daunted by the experience in the first 45 minutes.

Like the opening 3-1 defeat to Barcelona, they were fortunate to be still in the game by half-time. O'Neill said: "You strive all year to win a championship to get into the Champions League. "You don't want it to pass and play tentatively and have a bad 10 or 15 minutes. I said to some of the players that they had it within them and they responded fantastically.

"The response came from within themselves with great spirit. Sometimes ability gets overlooked but my belief is that we controlled the whole second half of the game against a side that won the competition 15 months ago and who are expected to go through.

"I know this might get forgotten but I won't forget the fantastic effort we put in. "AC Milan have won this competition five or six times and to have them putting the ball anywhere in the second-half to defend the lead shows you something.

"When Stan Varga stepped up to head that one home it was no more than we deserved and it was coming. That's why I am disappointed.

"There are one or two there playing at the San Siro for the first time so it's a bit daunting. "We were definitely tentative but you can be and it lasted a wee bit longer but once the lads woke up they were fine."

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