Celtic need Sutton to repeat Italian job to gain Uefa place

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The Independent Football

Chris Sutton is hoping to turn back the clock at Parkhead tonight to earn Celtic a valuable piece of overtime. Martin O'Neill's side require something from their Champions' League encounter with Milan to ensure European football after Christmas and Sutton has a history of mastering Italian visitors.

Chris Sutton is hoping to turn back the clock at Parkhead tonight to earn Celtic a valuable piece of overtime. Martin O'Neill's side require something from their Champions' League encounter with Milan to ensure European football after Christmas and Sutton has a history of mastering Italian visitors.

The last Serie A side to come to Parkhead were Juventus three years ago. Sutton, now 31, scored twice that night in a thrilling 4-3 success and both the striker and his manager would settle for a repeat of that outcome, even if the drama is diluted.

Celtic bowed to the inevitable in Group F some time ago. Not even holding Barcelona to a draw in the Nou Camp a fortnight ago could stop the Spanish league leaders from progressing into the last 16 of the competition with Milan, and the real contest has always been about finishing third ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk to secure the consolation prize of dropping into the Uefa Cup.

The Ukrainian side, who are a point behind Celtic, face Barcelona at home tonight in their final match and Sutton knows the Scottish champions must look after their own interests in Glasgow.

"It is great to play against such great teams but we have been on the back foot ever since we lost at home in the first match of the group to Barcelona," he said. "Our form has been patchy. We ought to have got something from the San Siro [when Celtic conceded two goals in stoppage time to lose 3-1] but we gave ourselves a chance by getting a point in the Nou Camp. This is a massive game for us. It would be nice to be playing European football after Christmas. Those are the occasions you look forward to."

Sutton, who described a searing volley against Juventus in the Champions' League as one of his best goals, and John Hartson are likely to provide a strenuous physical contest for Milan's central defence partnership, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta. Neither could handle the Welshman at the San Siro, but O'Neill is likely to drop the inconsistent Henri Camara to the bench and use Sutton up front in his natural role.

"The night when we beat Juventus here was one of the most fantastic nights at this club, and there have been a few," said O'Neill yesterday. "The atmosphere was brilliant and so was Sutton but we will need to reach those heights again to get a result against Milan. However, my side will be turning their minds back just a couple of weeks rather than three years. The draw in Barcelona showed we could dig out a result."

Celtic have fitness doubts over Didier Agathe and Stilian Petrov, which complicates O'Neill's selection. However, he insisted that whoever he chooses, they must put all thoughts of what is happening in Ukraine out of their minds. "There's no point in worrying about what goes on in Donetsk. That can't concern us. We have a chance to make the Uefa Cup - it's in our own hands."

Celtic (possible, 4-4-2): Hedman; Agathe, Baldé, Varga, McNamara; McGeady, Lennon, Petrov, Thompson; Sutton, Hartson.

Milan (4-4-2): Dida; Cafu, Nesta, Maldini, Kaladze; Gattuso, Pirlo, Kaka, Seedorf; Shevchenko, Crespo.

Referee: K Vassaras (Greece).

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