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McCourt out to avoid any repeat of giant-killing

Paddy McCourt insists that the desire to avoid another shock defeat to lower-league opposition will drive Celtic's players on in their Scottish Cup fourth-round clash with Berwick Rangers at Shielfield Park tomorrow.

The Northern Ireland international came on as a second-half substitute against Ross County in the semi-final of the same competition at Hampden last April but could not prevent the First Division side claiming a sensational 2-0 victory.

While less than a handful of Hoops players from that day remain at the club, McCourt remembers well the shockwaves from the defeat -- and the tongue-lashing afterwards by then interim boss Neil Lennon.

"We know what happened to us last year, it was a big shock and we don't want a repeat," he said. "I came on for the last 15 or 20 minutes so I was part of it and I know how bad I felt afterwards. I don't think it was disbelief. I think we were well beaten on the day by the better side.

"Too many of our players never turned up and we got punished for it. So we will go down there to make sure it doesn't happen again."

"They will be going out to hunt for a big scalp; it will be their cup final so we have to make sure there are no slip-ups."

Lennon will certainly be doing his best to ensure that Celtic's players are in the right frame of mind, as he suffered in the past from cup shocks both as a player and manager. The former captain was in the Celtic side which lost 1-0 at Inverness in the fifth round of the Scottish Cup in March 2003 and was in the midfield three seasons later when they were sensationally dumped out of the same competition 2-1 by Clyde.

Lennon was interim boss last season when Ross County dramatically knocked the Hoops out in the semi-finals and he lambasted his players afterwards. Lennon, who revealed that negotiations to bring Norway international forward Erik Huseklepp from SK Brann are still ongoing, is desperate to ensure that experience is not repeated.

"Upsets can happen on any given day and I've been involved in one or two myself," he said.

"But I don't think the players need me to tell them how important the game is or the consequences if they don't perform to their capabilities.


"Some of the players played against Ross County and I made my feelings clear afterwards because it wasn't the first time they had performed as poorly as that throughout the season.

"If it had been a one-off we could have accepted it but that wasn't the case and we don't want to repeat it.

"It would be a huge upset, but it can happen. As a manager you are always thinking of the negatives going into games and how you try to avoid them.

"It's a cup tie, the cameras are going to be there and they are looking for an upset but the mindset of the players at the moment means they are looking forward to whatever game comes their way. There is a confidence about them and they look in good nick."

Despite the humbling by County, Lennon was handed the manager's job at Parkhead on a permanent basis in the summer and he believes he is now better prepared for a cup tie against lower-league opposition.

"I wouldn't compare this game to the Ross County game," he said. "I had only two games in charge before that game and I've now had 30-odd games.

"I wouldn't say I was long in the tooth in the management game but I know the players better, they know me better and they know what's expected of them. It's important they are as professional as they can be and prepare as best they can, which they have done this week."

Lennon revealed that new signing Freddie Ljungberg, who missed the 2-0 win over Rangers at Ibrox last Sunday with a virus, could make his Celtic debut on Sunday.

"Freddie is certainly in contention. He is in good nick and has trained for a full week," he said.

Meanwhile, Birmingham City have had a bid accepted for Rangers striker Kenny Miller. Blues are set to pay an initial fee of £600,000 for Miller, who is out of contract in the summer.

Berwick v Celtic,

Live, Sky Sports 1, tomorrwo3.30

Irish Independent