Sport Soccer

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Cliftonville urge Celtic fans not to wear Hoops shirts in Belfast

Neil Lennon takes Celtic to Solitude for the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Cliftonville
Neil Lennon takes Celtic to Solitude for the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Cliftonville

Ronnie Esplin

Cliftonville officials have urged Celtic fans not to wear the club's green and white shirts in Belfast city centre ahead of and after tonight's Champions League qualifier against the Irish League champions.

The friendship and cultural similarities between the clubs and their fans means there should be little animosity at the north Belfast ground, which has had its capacity increased to around 5,000 – but particularly in marching season, the situation could be different in other parts of the city. "Belfast city centre is a very welcoming place but people are very sensitive about colours, not just this week," said Cliftonville director David Begley.

"As a result, its probably best to avoid wearing colours into the city centre."

Celtic's defensive injury crisis has led to an early recall to action for Efe Ambrose for the Solitude clash

The Nigeria defender was given extra time off following the Confederations Cup. However, with Adam Matthews, Charlie Mulgrew and Virgil van Dijk injured, plus Steven Mouyokolo signed but not available until the second leg next week, manager Neil Lennon has called upon the services of Ambrose earlier than expected.

"Efe is in contention," said the Northern Irishman, who has also seen Victor Wanyama leave for Southampton. "He looks great, he looks in good condition. He has had a couple of weeks off. It probably would have been ideal for him to do a little bit of conditioning work."

Midfielder Joe Ledley and striker Gary Hooper are also out with injuries, with the latter expected by Lennon to leave the Scottish champions in the next week.

Norwich were reported to have put a deadline of yesterday on their £4m bid for the 25-year-old Englishman Hooper, while QPR also have him on their radar.

Lennon said: "There are a couple of clubs interested and talks are ongoing but there is no confirmation on anything yet. I expect it to go ahead."

Asked about reports that he is interested in former Barcelona player Javier Saviola, Lennon said: "There is nothing in that at all."

Having beaten Barcelona in last season's competition, Lennon concedes that a shock defeat to the Northern Irish champions cannot be ruled out, saying: "Anything can happen in football. It is a dangerous game and it is one we are not taking lightly. We will have to be at our best.

"Cliftonville will be highly motivated but the Champions League is so important to us as well.

"We have a great relationship with Cliftonville but once the whistle blows we will try to win the game."

Cliftonville v Celtic

Live, BBC 2, 7.45

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