Celtic hope Sutton and Varga can return for second leg in Barcelona

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The Independent Online

John Robertson, Celtic's assistant manager, denied yesterday that it would be a gamble to throw Chris Sutton straight into the Nou Camp if he recovers in time to face Barcelona.

John Robertson, Celtic's assistant manager, denied yesterday that it would be a gamble to throw Chris Sutton straight into the Nou Camp if he recovers in time to face Barcelona.

The Englishman has made slow progress since sustaining a nerve injury in his ankle during their trip to the Czech Republic in the last round of the Uefa Cup on 3 March. Sutton will not figure again when his team-mates travel to Hibernian tomorrow in the SPL.

But Martin O'Neill's right-hand man is adamant the striker would not need any action before taking on Barca if he was to win his fitness race in the nick of time. "It's a slow thing," said Robertson. "We would probably have liked to have seen more progress early but we will give Chris every possible chance to play. The thing is if you say to Chris Sutton if he wants to play in this game he will tell you that he definitely wants to play.

"We have to wait and see but we can't say at this minute. I don't think playing Chris at any time is a gamble. He wouldn't necessarily need to play against Hibs to go into the Barcelona game."

Stanislav Varga will also miss this weekend's capital test after sustaining a hip injury against Dundee on Wednesday night, while John Hartson, Joos Valgaeren, Henrik Larsson and Shaun Maloney are also unavailable. The management team will give Sutton and Varga until the last minute to prove their fitness for the Uefa Cup fourth-round second-leg.

O'Neill could be forced to play a shadow team against Ronaldinho and Co - with Bobo Balde suspended and Uefa forcing Robert Douglas to sweat on his red card appeal. But the Northern Irishman's assistant said the club's teenage goalkeeper David Marshall will not be their weakest link - and has given him his blessing for the Nou Camp.

The 19-year-old has barely put a foot wrong since replacing Douglas at half-time against Barcelona. It looks increasingly likely he will be called upon if Uefa knocks back the Scotland No 1's case on Monday - but that is not a concern to anybody at Parkhead.

"We want him to get more experience," Robertson said. "If we have to go into the game with David then there is no problem as far as confidence is concerned. Obviously the more games he gets the better for him and the other night he played very well against Dundee.

"If that's the case and it comes down to that I don't see us having any problems whatsoever with David. We saw his confidence the other evening when he chipped the ball over the lad in the Barcelona game. We have a lot of faith in him."

The Rangers manager, Alex McLeish, welcomes his striker Steven Thompson back for today's game at home to Dundee - but Henning Berg will miss out. The Scotland front man comes back into the squad after missing the draw with Hearts with a groin problem but the Norwegian defender has been ruled out with an Achilles tendon injury.

McLeish will once again be without his influential Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta because of a shoulder problem and the striker Shota Arveladze because of knee surgery, but the young defender Alan Hutton is added to the squad, although Fernando Ricksen is missing having been served a four-match suspension by the SFA.

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