Revitalised Sutton helps Celtic dream

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The Independent Football

"There's only one Chris Sutton", chorused the green-and-white masses as their idol scored the third goal in Celtic's comfortable victory over Ajax in Amsterdam on Wednesday night.

English observers of the Champions' League qualifier begged to differ. There must be at least two – this Chris Sutton bore no resemblance to the one who had stumbled around Stamford Bridge.

Sutton not only scored, he had a foot in both Celtic's other goals and, but for two fine saves by Fred Grim, would have had a hat-trick. He ran unselfishly off the ball and held it up well, just as he did in partnership with Alan Shearer at Blackburn, but he also showed a confidence and touch in possession which Chelsea fans would find hard to believe.

This is the man whose self-belief was left in tatters both by his perceived technical inadequacies in comparison with the rest of Chelsea's skilled staff and his lack of goals at the London club. When he moved to Celtic last season, for £6m, a £4m drop on the fee Chelsea paid a year earlier, it was seen south of the border as the marking of his retirement from top-level competition. When he then played an important role as Celtic won the treble, his achievements were denigrated because of the one-sided nature of most of their games.

On Wednesday, however, he was playing in Europe's premier competition against one of its most illustrious names. And while Ajax may be in the process of re-building after being ravaged post-Bosman they have plenty of talented players. Though Sutton's performance was not seen on television in England it was another step on the way to rehabilitating his reputation. Should he build on this with similar displays in the group stages – for which Celtic will now surely qualify – he could yet return to international contention. And although there is a lot of competition in England's striking department, the England coach Sven Goran Eriksson has already shown he will look upon people with a fresh eye.

Certainly Henrik Larsson is a fan, the Swede having benefited enormously from Sutton's presence. "Sutton and Larsson are a really strong couple," noted Co Adriaanse, the Ajax coach, "they gave our defence a hard time." It is not only Sutton who has the chance to regain credibility from a prolonged European campaign, the image of Scottish football could also do with burnishing. A decent run in Europe would also give the Old Firm's campaign to be included in the Premiership a timely boost.

The Champions' League could provide a preview of the delights that would ensue if Celtic or Rangers are drawn against either Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal. Anglo-Scottish confrontations have been surprisingly rare in the European Cup, with the last meeting being Rangers' defeat of Leeds in 1992.

On the debit side such an encounter might also produce arguments against the Old Firm's inclusion. The vast majority of Celtic's huge travelling support were well-behaved in Amsterdam but sporadic outbreaks of fighting were a reminder that alcohol and football fans can be a volatile mix.

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