O’Neill hails courage of Celts after Euro failure

CELTIC manager Martin O’Neill has hailed the courage and determination of his players following their European failure.

The club were in the doldrums as they missed out on a consolation place in the UEFA Cup after finishing bottom of their Champions League group. The early exit from Europe has prompted speculation over whether it marked the beginning of the end for O’Neill’s ageing squad and whether the manager might walk away if transfer money is not forthcoming.

The Northern Irishman faces a busy week as he discusses his budget with the board and speaks with the agents of a clutch of stars who are soon to be out of contract.

There is still uncertainty over the future of John Hartson, Jackie McNamara, Neil Lennon, Bobo Balde, Joos Valgaeren and other players.

However, the manager and players put those concerns and the disappointing ending to their Champions League campaign to one side by beating Dunfermline at East End Park yesterday to return to the top of the Bank of Scotland Premier League.

O’Neill said: “The efforts especially against Barcelona and AC Milan in the last few weeks have been magnificent.

“It has been forgotten that we didn’t get beaten by Barcelona and Milan and winning yesterday has actually put us back on top of the league. But we are battling away as we enter a naturally big programme. We face Dundee United, then Hearts away and then Livingston before we have a bit of a break.

“They are difficult games for us but winning at Dunfermline has given us a big lift,” he said.

Celtic also face Rangers in the Tennent’s Scottish Cup in the New Year and O’Neill said: “It couldn’t be much more difficult but we are at home and we’ll give it everything.”

Dunfermline manager Davie Hay is also looking ahead to the reopening of the transfer window where a striker tops his list of targets.

He has been linked with a move for former East End Park favourite Stevie Crawford, who looks set to leave Plymouth Argyle.

But Hay faces competition from his predecessor Jimmy Calderwood, who is also keen to take Barry Nicholson from Dunfermline to his current club Aberdeen.

Pars captain Scott Thomson said: “If we were to get him it would be a massive boost. Everybody knows that he can score 20 goals a season and he has scored goals for us regularly for three or four seasons.

“I would be delighted to see Scott coming back.

“He has a contract at Plymouth and whether they let him go remains to be seen. But I would like to see him come back up the road and join us.

“I’ve heard Jimmy Calderwood is also interested so we’ll have to wait and see. I know that he also wants to sign Barry but he is just concentrating on his football.”

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