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Sunday 21 September 2014

Lyttle savours 'dream' draw

Published 24/06/2013 | 16:33

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Cliftonville play Celtic for a place in the Champions League third qualifying round

Cliftonville first-team coach Gerard Lyttle admits he was left speechless after the Belfast side were paired with his former club Celtic in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

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The former Parkhead youth recruit was signed by former boss Lou Macari in 1994 but failed to register a first-team appearance in his three-and-a-half years with the club.

However, he still retains a soft spot for the Scottish giants and now cannot wait to see his current employers take on the 1967 European champions when the Hoops host the Northern Irish outfit at Celtic Park on July 16 or 17.

He told Press Association Sport: "It is unbelievable. There are almost no words to describe the draw against Celtic. I was a Celtic player and I'm still a supporter so it is a dream come true. Everyone here is so excited."

The Reds sealed their Champions League qualifying slot by winning the Danske Bank Premiership but the part-timers from Solitude will be rank outsiders when they face a Celtic side that stunned Europe last season by defeating Barcelona.

And former Peterborough defender Lyttle admitted: "We will be big underdogs and everyone will write us off but we will go there with a game plan and I just hope the players don't get stage fright.

"We didn't get together for the draw, there were lots of players working but with social media we all soon found out. It is everyone's dream. We had a good season, won the double and got pipped at the post for the treble so this is just the icing on the cake.

"When the draw was regionalised we knew we had a one in five chance of getting Celtic. We started pre-season on Saturday and will be working most of the week. I don't expect the treatment table to be full. Everyone will be buzzing."

Should they overcome Cliftonville, Neil Lennon's men will need to get through two more qualifying rounds to reach the group stage for the second year in succession, where they will hope to match last season's achievement of reaching the last 16.

And Lyttle admits the Celtic Tommy Breslin's men will face is much changed from the club he left more than 15 years ago. "(First-team coach) Danny McGrain is the only one left from my time there, although (former reserve-team coach) Willie McStay has just recently moved on," he said.

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