Celtic not at loss on our plastic pitch, say Finns

Celtic should not have any misgivings about HJK Helsinki’s artificial pitch ahead of the second leg of their Champions League third round qualifier on Wednesday night, according to the Finnish side’s assistant manager Juho Rantala.

Neil Lennon’s side are looking to defend their 2-1 lead from the first leg at Parkhead but goalkeeper Fraser Forster has voiced his concerns about the surface, saying it would probably feel “like you’re diving on a car park”.

However, Rantala moved to quash any notion that his side will have an advantage against the Scottish champions.

He said: “The pitch cannot be an excuse, it cannot be about the pitch.

“It is not rock hard like the old plastic pitches. They changed it a year ago to a new and better one.

“It is a bit different with regards defending because it is easier to tackle on grass. But I have always said that if you know how to play football then you can pass the ball on our pitch.

“We would like to play on a surface like Celtic Park every week but because of the climate in Finland we have to have an artificial pitch.”

Rantala believes that if Celtic are to have any concerns they should be about the slender lead they will bring with them to Finland.

“One goal for us and they are out, that is one thing that they may have on their minds,” he said.

“So it might be a mental game.

“But we are happy that the tie is still alive, we defended stubbornly in the first game but Celtic are still the favourites.’’

After Saturday’s lacklustre 1-0 win over Aberdeen in their Premier League opener at Parkhead, where a mistake from Dons keeper Jamie Langfield gifted Kris Commons the winner, Lennon claimed his players needed “plenty of rest before Wednesday”.

“They have only really had a day-and-a-half to recover after the first game against Helsinki and they put a lot into that game,” said the former Celtic skipper.

“We looked at the stats on Friday and the amount of work they put in was tremendous.

“So there was a wee bit of hangover from that and I totally understand it.”

Defender Charlie Mulgrew will return from suspension while winger James Forrest should be fit again after a groin strain. Skipper Scott Brown, who missed the Dons match, may have to take an injection in his hip to play any part.

Georgios Samaras took a boot in the face against Aberdeen which led to him going off early in the second half but he should also be fit.


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