No time for Celtic to savour the pleasures of Bordeaux

O'Neill refuses to let his players wallow in self-indulgence
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The Independent Football

It had been a heady night in Bordeaux, but Martin O'Neill had scarcely allowed its taste to leave his players' lips when he was administering a sobering thought. There was still a Sunday session, involving a home brew of claret and amber, before Celtic could be satisfied.

It had been a heady night in Bordeaux, but Martin O'Neill had scarcely allowed its taste to leave his players' lips when he was administering a sobering thought. There was still a Sunday session, involving a home brew of claret and amber, before Celtic could be satisfied.

Too often in the past, Motherwell have inflicted a hangover on Celtic. They cost O'Neill's predecessor, John Barnes, his job last season, which is why the Celtic manager could not allow his team to savour Thursday night's 1-1 draw, which makes progress into the third round of the Uefa Cup a real possibility.

In the dressing room of the Stade Lescure, O'Neill's players could hear the 4,000 Celtic fans who travelled to the world's wine capital demanding a bow from the team. The Northern Irishman, however, insisted they hit the road rather than have one for it.

"The gaffer started talking about the Motherwell game right after the match," Alan Thompson, the recent £2.5m acquisition from Aston Villa, said. "He wanted us to get our minds on it right away. As far as he was concerned, the Bordeaux match was gone and we need to forget it."

Thompson, as the newest member of Celtic's team, is not familiar with Motherwell's hold over Celtic. The oldest, however, could tell him of the need to be cautious. Tom Boyd's nine years at Parkhead make him the longest-serving player, but it is the captain's lineage dating back to his own days at Fir Park that make him an authority on this fixture.

"When I was at Motherwell we had a great record against Celtic," he recalled. "The best was probably the Scottish Cup semi-final in 1991, when we won 4-2 and went on to win the cup."

It was Boyd who lifted the old trophy and then moved to Chelsea, before ending up at the club he supported. Motherwell, though, have made him pay for it a few times. "In recent years they have always given us problems. They beat us twice in November last season, when I was out with a back injury. The second one was a live television game at Fir Park, when they came from behind to win 3-2. I was watching at home and the back pain was the least of my problems."

The clarity that O'Neill has brought to Celtic in his five months in the job has turned a team continually overshadowed by their past into a group who promise to have a future if they maintain a single-minded focus on the 90 minutes in hand. Eleven wins and one draw in the opening 12 games has established a lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League and, more importantly, a pattern that no one wants to break.

"We have to think only about Motherwell," said Henrik Larsson, whose penalty in Bordeaux cancelled out the lead given by Christophe Dugarry's header. "They always make it tough for us."

That is not completely true. The one occasion when the fixture strayed from its habitual tightness came in February 1999, when Larsson struck a sublime hat-trick at Fir Park as Celtic engulfed the home team 7-1.

That came in the prolific season in which the Swedish striker hit 38 goals, before his broken leg. Thursday's was his 17th of this campaign. "Henrik still feels he has a bit more to go before he is back to his old form," said a bewildered O'Neill. "If that's the case, he will be some player. I thought his first-half performance was fantastic, especially when you consider the mental strain he was under in coming back to France."

Bordeaux was Larsson's first time on French soil since his horrific injury in Lyon, exactly a year ago. "None of the players mentioned Lyon to him," O'Neill said, "in case it stirred up bad memories. But I think his performance expunged those for a long time to come."

"The injury always creeps into my mind and it was there on Thursday too," Larsson admitted. "But that's it out of the way now." Both Celtic and their talisman have some lost time to make up for, but O'Neill will ensure that the only glasses being raised are the ones on his head.

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