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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Celtic in for a bumpy ride on Qarabag pitch

UEFA confirms game will go ahead despite poor surface

Celtic’ Leigh Griffiths is ushered off with an injury by manager Ronny Deila during the Ladbrokes Premiership match against Ross County at Celtic Park, Glasgow.
Celtic’ Leigh Griffiths is ushered off with an injury by manager Ronny Deila during the Ladbrokes Premiership match against Ross County at Celtic Park, Glasgow.

Celtic assistant manager John Collins has dismissed suggestions their Champions League qualifier in Azerbaijan is in doubt but confirmed Qarabag's pitch was in a poor state.

A bumpy and barren surface awaits Celtic at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium in Baku when Ronny Deila's men defend their 1-0 lead in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.

Following reports from Celtic's security staff, Collins is not concerned about the game being postponed, but he admits the pitch might force them to change tactics.

Speaking at Glasgow Airport ahead of the team's departure for Wednesday's game, Collins said: "Obviously there's a little concern at the moment but we will go over there and train on it and check out how it is.

PHONE CALL

"I got a phone call from security about 15 minutes ago, they are over there just now, and they say it's not looking good.

"I don't think that the game's going to be in doubt but the pitch is not in a good state.

"They have had extremely warm temperatures. I don't know if the grass has some kind of disease in it or something, but it doesn't look good apparently."

Collins added: "At this level you expect the pitch to be of a good standard, but if it isn't we will just have to adapt our play.

"If it is bumpy we will have to be a little bit more direct and not pass the ball in our own half, if it's really bumpy. We will have to adapt."

A spokesman for Qarabag, who lost the first leg 1-0 in Glasgow, said the pitch was "not ideal".

But in a statement, UEFA said: "There are no plans to change the venue and the match is scheduled to go ahead as planned."

Leigh Griffiths and Nir Bitton have both travelled but Charlie Mulgrew will miss out with a knee injury.

Griffiths came off early with a calf knock in Celtic's Ladbrokes Premiership opener against Ross County on Saturday after opening the scoring in the 2-0 victory, while Bitton sat out the game because of an ankle complaint.

"Both are still carrying knocks," Collins said. "Leigh never trained today, he was on the bike, and Nir is the same, but they will be fine for tomorrow's training. We expect them both to be available.

"Charlie has not travelled. He will be fine for Saturday (against Partick Thistle) but this one has come a little bit too early for Charlie."

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