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Aug 20, 2013

Lennon nervous ahead of UCL clash

Celtic manager Neil Lennon admits he will be attacked by a case of nerves when his side face Shakhter Karagandy in the first leg of their Champions League play-off tie.

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Celtic travel to Kazakhstan to face Shakhter for the first time in the clubs’ histories, with the victor of the tie assured a place in the group stage.

The reigning Scottish champions have a long history of playing in the Champions League, with last season’s road to the knock-out stage including a shock win over Spanish giants Barcelona.

However, with another night in Europe looming, and the club still smarting from the exit of a number of last season’s heroes, Lennon said he felt a sense of apprehension heading to Shakhter’s Astana Arena.

“I suppose after last year you are a little more comfortable,” Lennon said. “But it is still quite a nerve-wracking time for all us involved although we try not to let that permeate to the players.

“We are relaxed, we had a great result at the weekend against Aberdeen and the players are in good form and looking forward to the game.

“We haven't had much time to gauge but I am very happy with the way the squad has settled. I have liked the camaraderie between the players and the new boys have settled in very well.

“Obviously we have lost hugely influential players in Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson but we feel have acquired some very good players. They will take time to bed in obviously, but we are very happy with the way things are going at the moment.”

Shakhter boss Viktor Kumykov said the pedigree of Celtic should see the Scottish club through to the group stage, but Lennon refused to buy into his counterpart’s argument.

“Obviously we have more experience than Shakhter but they are at home and they have an excellent home record,” Lennon said.

“They have already knocked out BATE Borisov, who beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season, so this is going to be a difficult tie.”

Kumykov said in an earlier press conference: “This game is going to be very difficult for us.

“We are newcomers to the Champions League, Celtic is a very experienced club and are former champions of Europe.

“Our main task is to obtain Champions League experience.

“We recognise that Celtic are more experienced and stronger than us.

“But football is illogical and you cannot be sure about anything.

“In football, the strongest side does not always win and there are many examples of that, even in the Champions League.”

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.

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