Douglas unmoved by Hedman threat
Friday 16 August 2002
Martin O'Neill says Robert Douglas has answered his critics by keeping Celtic's Champions' League ambitions alive.
Douglas' days as No 1 goalkeeper looked set to be over following the arrival of Magnus Hedman, but on Wednesday night against FC Basel it was his brilliant double second-half saves from Murat Yakin with the score at 2-1 that has given Douglas side a good opportunity to return to the money-spinning group stages.
While O'Neill has refused to make an issue of the fight for the gloves, Douglas has responded to the pressure by failing to put a foot wrong. Unlike last season, such competition could prevent the momentary lapses in concentration and see him produce some of the displays he regularly produced in the Champions' League last season.
"Robert Douglas had a brilliant 10-minute spell when we were getting tired in the game," O'Neill said. "He kept us in it at that stage with two great saves which allowed us the opportunity to get another goal." Momo Sylla's late strike was unfair on the Swiss champions, but at 3-1 the Scottish Premier League leaders are expected to complete the task in a fortnight.
It was an amazing turn-around after Christian Gimenez had stunned the home crowd with a goal after just 90 seconds. Henrik Larsson's penalty minutes later squared the tie before Chris Sutton's back-heel gave the home side the advantage.
Celtic could even afford the Swede having his second spot-kick saved, but a man-of-the-match performance from his English strike partner had the manager purring.
"He was absolutely magnificent," O'Neill said. "He is a top-class centre forward. He lost a bit of confidence at Chelsea, but he has showed enough European class to prove he is a very decent player."
A goal in the return leg in Switzerland would probably mean Celtic joining the first group stage of the competition and O'Neill is confident. "We are definitely capable of scoring and creating chances over there," he said.
The Basel coach, Christian Gross, is refusing to give up hope, but admits his side's lack of experience proved decisive. The former Tottenham manager said: "We lost a little bit of control in midfield after the break. We always had a man over in the first half and always looked like scoring, but they troubled us with their crosses.
"But looking back, we had so many inexperienced players in our side for this kind of game, which cost us the result. We had a brilliant start, but if you can't concentrate for another four minutes then then you let them back in.
"But you can't forget that this was the club's biggest game for 22 years at this level so this performance was OK."
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