Celtic short at the back for what should be a friendly encounter with Cliftonville

Efe Ambrose rushed back for Champions League qualifier

Celtic manager Neil Lennon: “We have a great relationship with Cliftonville but once the whistle blows we will try to win the game.” Photograph:  Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

Celtic manager Neil Lennon: “We have a great relationship with Cliftonville but once the whistle blows we will try to win the game.” Photograph: Darren Kidd/Inpho/Presseye

Wed, Jul 17, 2013, 01:00

Celtic’s defensive injury crisis ahead of their Champions League qualifier against Cliftonville at Solitude tonight has led to an early recall to action for Efe Ambrose.

The Nigeria defender was given extra time off following the Confederations Cup. However, with defenders 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 Ambrose is in contention,” said the Northern Irishman, who has also seen Victor Wanyama leave for Southampton. “He looks great, he looks in good condition. These guys play almost 12 months a year. He has had a couple of weeks off.

“He had a heavy schedule with the Confederations Cup, had a holiday, did a little bit of training in Nigeria and then joined us yesterday and he looks fine. It probably would have been ideal for him to do a little bit of conditioning work but looking at him yesterday he looks in fine fettle.”


Injuries
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 €4.6m bid for the 25-year-old Englishman while QPR boss Harry Redknapp indicated the club were not close to bringing Hooper to Loftus Road, albeit he is a player firmly 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. I don’t know what club or what price but I would expect it to be concluded over the next week or two.”

He also denied reports that he is interested in former Barcelona player Javier Saviola.

Having beaten Barcelona in last season’s competition, Lennon concedes that a shock defeat to the Northern Irish champions cannot be ruled out.

“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. I know it is early and I know some of the players won’t be at their best but we will have to play very well to get a result tomorrow.

“Cliftonville will be highly motivated but the Champions League is so important to us as well. The difficulty is it comes so early. It is our first competitive game, we have only been back two and a half weeks and some players less than that, so it is a big ask.”

The friendship and cultural similarities between both clubs and their respective fans means there should be little animosity at the north Belfast ground which has had its capacity increased to around 5,000 but Lennon does not want the night to become too friendly.

“We have a great relationship with Cliftonville but once the whistle blows we will try to win the game,” he said.

“The atmosphere should be great, as long as it doesn’t turn into a party-type atmosphere and the players get caught up with that. We are here to do a job and try to win the game or try to take some sort of result back to Glasgow next week.”