O'Neill expects Celtic to underline superiority

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The Independent Football

Celtic should book their place in the group stages of the Champions' League tonight when MTK Hungaria come to Parkhead with a 4-0 deficit from the first leg.

Celtic were criticised after their below-par performance against Kaunas in the last round, but their manager, Martin O'Neill, said yesterday: "I want us to win and play as well as we possibly can. There's lots at stake and it is a big big game for us. Four-nil is a very handsome lead and is one I wouldn't want whittled away. I wouldn't want to be presumptuous. I'm looking forward to the game tomorrow night. I'm a bit apprehensive about it, but if we approach it in the proper manner we won't ruin it."

John Hartson looks set to make his long-awaited return to the Celtic squad for the second leg of the qualifier. The Welsh international striker has not figured since the Old Firm win at Ibrox Park in April after having surgery on his back, but showed no reaction after playing 90 minutes for the under-21s on Monday. The winger Didier Agathe is also fit after a recent groin problem, but a knee injury has ruled out the defender Joos Valgaeren.

O'Neill voiced frustration at the domestic transfer window, but revealed that he still hoped to add to his squad before Sunday's European deadline arrives.

He argued that the restrictions imposed by world football's governing body, Fifa, have backed managers into a corner and admitted that he would have major problems if his squad were hit by injury problems before the January window. He also claimed that the window damaged the careers of players, who were robbed of the chance of a new challenge elsewhere.

"My personal view is that I don't like it at all and I don't think many managers do," O'Neill said. "The very simple fact is that you can't just plan the next four or five months, because you can get a series of injuries. I can understand the European deadlines which were in place years and years ago, but in terms of the domestic window or signing international players that prevents movement.

"I honestly think that it's not a good thing for some younger lads, who find themselves out of the side and have got up-and-coming careers, that after the first of September they can't move even if clubs want them to help them.

"Trying to get a lot of things done before a certain deadline, I'm not so sure it is good. This time last year there was little movement and not very much in January because people were trying to get used to it. I am not too happy with it and there are better managers than myself would probably say the same thing, that it almost forces you into a corner."

The Celtic manager has not made a single signing during the summer, despite being on the brink of a place in the Champions' League group stages.

He has just a few days before the European window shuts - but that will not stop him trying to make a dramatic last-minute capture.

"I might give it some thought," he said. "We have until Sunday and I'll be working right to the last moment on that one."

But O'Neill will have the players which took the club to the Uefa Cup final last season after categorically denying that the club had rejected a £1.5m bid from Middlesbrough for Neil Lennon.

"There's absolutely no ounce of truth in it at all," the Celtic manager said. "We've had absolutely no approach from Middlesbrough whatsoever. If we have had no approach, then we have not knocked anything back. Nobody has approached me from Middlesbrough."

Celtic squad: Douglas, Balde, Crainey, Larsson, Thompson, Sutton, Hartson, Lambert, Agathe, Sylla, Lennon, Petrov, Miller, Varga, Hedman, McNamara, Smith, Maloney, Beattie.