Europa League play-offs
Celtic can’t afford any more Euro slip-ups
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers knows it’s vital to make it through to the Europa League group stages (pic: SNS Group)
There is plenty at stake for both Celtic and Rangers as they bid to make the group stages of the Europa League – for very different reasons.
For those of a green-and-white persuasion, the prospect of no European football beyond August is not worth contemplating.
For the past two seasons under Brendan Rodgers, Celtic fans have gorged themselves on a diet of exhilarating Champions League nights at Parkhead against the likes of Barcelona, Paris St-Germain Manchester City and Bayern Munich.
Having been dreaming of another crack at Europe’s elite, the defeat by AEK Athens in the third qualifying round was a bitter pill to swallow, not only for the supporters but the board.
There had been rumours of tension between the Hoops boss and his chief executive Peter Lawwell in the run-up to the meeting with the Greeks and the 3-2 aggregate loss did nothing to dispel the notion that all is not well in Paradise.
Failure to at least secure the consolation prize of making it through to the group stages of the Europa League will put the pair’s relationship firmly under the microscope.
Odds may be stacked in the Celts’ favour against Suduva and the Scottish champions should have plenty in their locker to get past the Lithuanians, starting with the first leg in Marijampole. Pressure, though, can do strange things to teams.
Rodgers, who has cooled interest in Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna after the Dons rejected a reported £3.5 million bid for the defender, will be looking for a professional performance to take any sort of advantage back to Glasgow for the return next week.
He will do so without defender Jack Hendry, who misses the game, as does Dedryck Boyata, with Odsonne Edouard also sidelined.
Kyle Lafferty could find himself involved in Europa League action for Rangers after his move from Hearts (pic: SNS Group)
GERS LOOK TO EXTEND IMPRESSIVE UNBEATEN RUN
Rangers boss Steven Gerrard is also within touching distance of the group stages after an impressive start to his managerial career.
The rookie manager goes into the first leg against Russians FC Ufa looking to continue an unbeaten opening to his Ibrox reign.
After the problems of last season, not even the most optimistic Gers fan would have predicted such a positive scenario.
It appears Gerrard, whose new signing from Hearts Kyle Lafferty will go straight into the squad, can do no wrong at the moment. And if the players can build on the momentum achieved to date by overcoming Ufa, there’s no telling what impact that might have on their league campaign.
Defender Connor Goldson has been an integral member of a new-look backline which has gelled well and he said: “It has been good in the Europa League and we have done well so far in the games we have played.
“We have one more tough tie to play and then hopefully if we do well and play the way we have we can get into the group stages.
“I knew I was joining a massive club and the gaffer and I spoke in the summer that we wanted to get this club into Europe, we are one leg away which is a good start.”
Jamie Murphy is out for the season, while midfielder Lassana Coulibaly is absent from the first leg at Ibrox through injury.