Champions League: Celtic have ‘useful experience’ to draw on in Astana threat

Celtic have the seeming edge on FC Astana in the second leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie on Wednesday night, but they know it can still go wrong because it has for them before.
Anthony Ralston of Celtic leaps during the team's friendly against Barcelona on Saturday in Dublin. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images / July 30, 2016
Anthony Ralston of Celtic leaps during the team's friendly against Barcelona on Saturday in Dublin. Charles McQuillan / Getty Images / July 30, 2016

Celtic may be the favourites to progress from their Champions League qualifier against FC Astana on Wednesday but the Scottish champions don’t need to look far back in their history to find reasons to be wary.

Leigh Griffiths’ late equaliser in Kazakhstan last week secured a 1-1 first-leg draw and gave Brendan Rodgers’ side a vital away goal that puts the team in the driving seat to progress to the final play-off round.

It was an impressive result in tough conditions for Celtic against a side that played in the group stages of last year’s competition and were unbeaten at home against Benfica, Galatasaray and eventual finalists Atletico Madrid.

Celtic, who are aiming to return to the group stages for the first time since 2013/14, will take encouragement from the fact Astana have failed to win away from home in the Champions League while managing just two goals in their seven ties.

Despite this, first team coach John Kennedy is all too aware last week’s result is far from a guarantee of reaching the next stage.

Two years ago Kennedy was a matter of weeks into his new role under the tutelage of Norwegian manager Ronny Deila and assistant John Collins when Celtic drew 1-1 away to Slovenian side Maribor in the play-off round.

It left Celtic within touching distance of the lucrative group stages, but their opponents turned the tie on its head at Celtic Park when they scored a late winner to condemn the Scottish champions to the Europa League.

There has been a change since then with former Liverpool manager Rodgers now the man tasked with leading Celtic to the promised land of the group stages.

Kennedy has urged his side to learn from that bitter experience against Maribor and believes they can extend their run of four straight victories at home in qualification.

“At the time it was tough mentally to take but the memories will give the players greater awareness going into this match,” Kennedy said.

“That’s a useful experience for us to learn from.

“There are a lot of players from that tie still in the squad who were a part of that, too.

“But we always knew this was going to be a tough tie and the first leg showed that. The conditions were tough but coming home with a 1-1 in the bag is as positive as we could have asked for.

“We wanted to make sure we got a positive result and getting the away goal was massive for us. The way the tie is balanced is great for us as preparation-wise we go in with a positive mindset.

“We’re not going in to this just trying to hang on. Our mindset is to go and win the game and put the tie to bed.”

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Published: August 2, 2016 04:00 AM


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