Tuesday 20 February 2018

Deila vows 'no excuses' as Stokes loses fitness race

Anthony Stokes will be missing for Celtic in their second leg Champions League second qualifer against KR Reykjavik. Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Anthony Stokes will be missing for Celtic in their second leg Champions League second qualifer against KR Reykjavik. Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Ronnie Esplin

Ronny Deila believes his Celtic side will have "no excuses" for failing to perform at the home of Scottish rugby in the second leg of their Champions League second qualifier against KR Reykjavik tonight.

The match is being played on a brand new pitch at the BT Murrayfield Stadium in Edinburgh as Parkhead is out of commission due its use in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

The Hoops are 1-0 up from the first leg in Iceland and will face either Polish side Legia Warsaw or St Patrick's Athletic in the next qualifier if, as expected, they see off the Icelandic side.

After looking at the Murrayfield playing surface, a mixture of grass and artificial fibres, Deila gave it a ringing endorsement.

"It is fantastic," said the Norwegian. "It is a very good pitch. I don't think there will be any problem. The team will have the support and that is important and the pitch is perfect. So no excuses."

Charlie Mulgrew, skipper in the first leg in the absence of Scott Brown, who is out long term with a hamstring injury, was equally praiseworthy of the new pitch.

He said: "If you are not going to play at your home stadium, then this is just the perfect place.

"Everything is perfect about it, the pitch, everything – it will be fine. Preparations have been fine and everything has gone smoothly. It is just another place to play and it is a great place.

"We hope to get as many fans as we can in. We all know what Celtic fans are like in the Champions League for us, so hopefully we can get them behind us."

The Hoops fans who make their way to the Scottish capital will see a familiar Celtic line-up as Deila has only added former Hearts and Sunderland keeper, Craig Gordon, to his squad so far and he may not even be on the bench if regular No 2 Lukasz Zaluska is named as back-up to England cap Fraser Forster.

However, the former Stromsgodset boss will be without Anthony Stokes. The Dubliner missed out on the friendly against Dynamo Dresden in Germany last Saturday with a pulled muscle.

Kris Commons was substituted late in the first half of that match with a thigh injury, but Deila is confident he will be fit. Teemu Pukki is likely to replace Stokes.

Deila continues the search for new players, who will be vital in the event of the Scottish champions making the group stages of the competition, but he insists he will not be making signings for the sake of it.

"We are working to try to get someone in. It is a bad time, it costs more money. It is also about finding the right ones. I am after quality," he said. "It has to be someone who can come straight in and do something at once and that is very difficult.

"Some clubs haven't started training yet again, so we have to find the right options.

"If the players aren't going to make the team better, then it is better to wait. But we hope to get players in to make the team better and make Celtic better as a club."

Mulgrew revealed his pride at being handed the armband by Deila last week, saying: "Growing up a Celtic fan and looking at the players that have captained the side in the past, it was a great achievement for myself. I was delighted. It was a proud moment."

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