Defeat will mean early exit for Celtic, says O'Neill

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The Independent Football

The Celtic manager, Martin O'Neill, conceded yesterday that another defeat at the hands of Anderlecht would bring this season's Champions' League adventure to a premature end.

The Bhoys' Group A campaign is still on a knife-edge despite their failure to overcome 10 men in Belgium on 21 October. O'Neill's side is still in the hunt with Anderlecht and Lyon a point ahead and Bayern Munich a further point in front. They also play two of their final three matches at Parkhead, but the Celtic manager acknowledges that they need at least six points to avoid an early exit.

"I would say that we probably have to win the game, although I am sure that it wouldn't be the death-knell to our Champions' League aspirations if we draw," O'Neill said. "If we lost the game then it would certainly cast a major shadow on our chances of going through simply because we only have two games after that left. But in all intents and purposes we have to win the game. If we had got something from the game in Anderlecht that would have relieved some of the pressure that we're under.

"It's almost like a must-win for us even though the group is still so tight at the moment. It would be difficult if we got beaten and if we draw it probably depends on what happens elsewhere."

O'Neill has a pleasant selection poser as he welcomes back Didier Agathe for the Anderlecht game. The influential winger was rested for last weekend's emphatic win at Rugby Park but O'Neill is expected to try and accommodate him in his starting line-up again.

O'Neill must decide whether to drop the youngster Liam Miller despite his impressive display in midfield in the 5-0 win at Kilmarnock on Saturday, or the striker John Hartson.

The defender Joos Valgaeren has shrugged off the effects of a virus, and the performances of Jackie McNamara and Michael Gray have also given O'Neill plenty to ponder. Alan Thompson (calf), Paul Lambert (ankle), Stephen Crainey (ankle) and Bobby Petta (hamstring) are recovering from injuries. But Johan Mjallby (knee), Steve Guppy (hernia), Jamie Smith (ankle) and Ulrik Laursen (medial ligament) are available for selection.

Celtic (from): Hedman, Balde, Varga, Gray, Petrov, Lennon, Miller, McNamara, Larsson, Hartson, Sutton, Agathe, Valgaeren, Mjallby, Guppy, Smith, Laursen, Douglas, Sylla, Maloney, Kennedy, Wallace.

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