Improving Celtic still have a way to go

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The Independent Online
Forty-eight thousand Celtic supporters rose to acclaim their heroes last month at the end of another of those sweaty emotional nights Celtic Park has witnessed through the years.

The occasion was one of the more humble triumphs yet was remarkable because of the outcome. Celtic had beaten Tirol Innsbruck 6-3 on the night to progress to the first round proper of the Uefa Cup, showing character to reply three times from a position which would have seen them eliminated. Celtic Park is a clamouring crucible of emotion on such nights, as Liverpool may discover.

Despite protestations to the contrary, this European tie may have come too soon for Wim Jansen's side, who are slowing beginning to reach the standards demanded by the club. The defence, however, remains porous, as was shown at Motherwell on Saturday when Celtic had to overcome a 2- 1 deficit to realise a 3-2 victory.

The return of Alan Stubbs should have been a blessing but the Scouse defender looked at fault for both Motherwell's goals. Stubbs, though, looks certain to play on Tuesday with Marc Rieper, last week's signing from West Ham, dropping out due to ineligibility.

"Liverpool are the enemy to me because I was an Everton supporter," said Stubbs. "It's a big game for us but one we'll look forward to.

"Liverpool are full of class but I don't see the point in thinking this tie has come too soon for us because we are getting better with every game and maybe we can make another leap for this one."

In attack Celtic have created chances but, in the absence of a natural goalscorer, many have been wasted. The skills of Regi Blinker and Henrik Larsson as well as the promptings of Craig Burley are beginning to complement each other but Jansen knows his men face a tough obstacle.

"It is important for the international players in particular to be at their best," he said. "The higher the quality of the player the higher the quality of a team's performance."

Rangers, who are also in Uefa Cup action on Tuesday, were given a timely warning by Aberdeen that their defence, too, can be suspect, with the Dons coming back from 2-0 and then 3-2 down to earn a point in a 3-3 draw at Ibrox.

It was a match which will give the management of Strasbourg encouragement ahead of tomorrow's first leg in France.

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