O'Neill's walking wounded intent on performing Celtic rescue

Calum Philip
Tuesday 02 November 2004 01:00

It is the last throw of the dice for Celtic tonight, though Martin O'Neill could hardly be described as someone who is enjoying the rub of the green in the Champions' League.

The Scottish champions will have to earn a Group F lifeline at home to Shakhtar Donetsk without their most influential player, Chris Sutton, who injured a shoulder against Aberdeen six days ago and is out for a month. Ironically, Sutton had managed to overcome a dreadful head knock against Shakhtar in Ukraine a fortnight ago which forced him to sit out the second half.

He was the third Celtic player in successive games to be carried off injured in this campaign, following Jackie McNamara and Alan Thompson. The fact that both have just returned to action ahead of schedule underlines the spirit that still exists at Parkhead to cling on to this competition even when they have been written off.

Three defeats in three games seems a mountain to climb, though O'Neill has used Newcastle United's Lazarus act two seasons ago to underline that it can be done. His players feel that the 3-0 scoreline in Donetsk was flattering to their hosts, who were under pressure until Sutton left the pitch. "They are beatable," insisted John Hartson yesterday. "We were giving them a lot of problems until Chris went off. I know that sounds like sour grapes but, honestly, they are not better than us. We are probably thinking just now about rescuing a Uefa Cup place by finishing third but we've got to get a win and get one foot in the door, and try and stay alive in this group. We have a good record at Parkhead. Barcelona are the only team to have beaten us there in 20 games, so we have to to give it a go."

O'Neill refused to reveal his other injury doubts - Bobo Balde has been playing with a shoulder problem for weeks, while Stan Varga and Henri Camara missed Saturday's win against Motherwell. The manager joked: "I'm fed up hearing about the injuries. We will just put out a team and see what we can do. If we had our strongest side out, I would expect to beat Shakhtar at home, but we've not got our strongest side."

Celtic (possible 4-4-2): Marshall; Agathe, Valgaeren, Balde, McNamara; Petrov, Lennon, Juninho, Thompson; Hartson, Beattie.

Shakhtar Donetsk (probable 4-3-1-2): Lastuvka; Rat, Barcauan, Lewandowski, Stoican; Vukic, Tymoshchuk, Brandao; Matuzelem; Aghahowa, Marica.

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