CELTIC PARK has been a Football Fortress in the past.

However, Chris Sutton, one of the heroes in the wonderful run to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville which celebrates its 20th anniversary tomorrow, reckons it had a spell “when it became more like a sandcastle”.

The former Hoops striking great believes Ange Postecoglou may have a change in store to restore Paradise to its former glories as he prepares for a second assault on the Champions League next season.

SEVILLE CRUNCH…Chris Sutton battles with a Porto defender for possession in the UEFA Cup Final on May 21 2003.

Reflecting on the 3-2 extra-time loss to Jose Mourinho’s Portuguese side in the Spanish city two decades ago, Sutton said: “We quite fancied smashing a few Porto faces 20 years ago as they cheated and dived their way through the last stages of the game.

“But, looking to the next tilt at Europe, Ange Postecoglou might just alter his strategy slightly. And I definitely feel the key to winning a few rounds next season is properly defending their own patch.

“It’s hard to believe it’s the 20th anniversary of Seville tomorrow. I can still remember the night clearly. The sea of green and white on the bus journey to the stadium, the whole occasion, the joy of feeling we could get it done when Henrik Larsson scored his two goals.

“Then the sheer despair when it was slipping away and the anger that built inside as Porto conned and connived their way through the end of the game to get over the line. It infuriated us. Don’t get me wrong, all teams do it. We’d have done it as well if we were 3-2 up in extra-time. Just not to the same levels of high-standard housery.

“Ultimately, there was pride in what we achieved to get there. I am proud to have been part of the whole Martin O’Neill era, to be fair. We did some superb things in Europe. Aside from that run to Seville, our away form in Europe and in the Champions League left a lot to be desired.

“But it was a different story at home. We fancied ourselves against anyone and we got some great results against some high-class sides.

DEFIANT IN DEFEAT…Martin O’Neill and his players acknowledge the Celtic support in Seville following the 3-2 extra-time defeat to Porto.

“It’s not something that stopped, either, when Martin left. Gordon Strachan took care of Manchester United, AC Milan and Benfica on his way to a couple of last 16s. Neil Lennon did the same in beating a brilliant Barcelona side when taking his team into the knock-out stages.

“Celtic Park was a fortress back then. Then it had a spell when it became more like a sandcastle.

“Visiting teams have enjoyed playing there rather than fearing it. Postecoglou has had a couple of goes. Wins over Ferencvaros and Real Betis in the Europa League were more like before, obviously, the Champions League was a major step up.”

Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “He couldn’t have asked for a tougher start than tackling the champions in Real Madrid. Celtic played well for almost an hour before the masters took control.

“RB Leipzig deserved to win in Glasgow and Shakhtar Donetsk, despite Celtic outplaying them in Warsaw when the sides first met, would have won in the east end as well had one of their players not produced one of the misses of all-time.

“It’s very difficult to be critical. The levels of the Champions League these days are absolutely off the scale at the highest end.

PAIN IN SPAIN…Ange Postecoglou looks distraught during the 5-1 loss to Real Madrid in the Bernabeu.

“It was my pleasure to be at the Etihad in Manchester this week commentating as City booked their place in the Final against Inter Milan. Pep Guardiola’s side were absolutely sensational. Unplayable. Reaching that level on a sustained basis is just impossible for Celtic with the finances the way they are in the modern game.

“But it’s not long ago that Rodgers’ side went toe-to-toe with City in Glasgow. That 3-3 draw in Brendan’s first go at the Champions League with Celtic was a fabulous display and proved what can be achieved in a one-off.

“Since then, it’s been pretty barren on their own patch. Neil arrested the slide superbly in the Europa League first time around in his second spell with some superb wins and performances, notably when seeing off Lazio on a thrilling occasion.

“The following season, however, was a disaster during the Covid period. An empty stadium was the backdrop for some bitter and heavy defeats. One in particular against Sparta Prague stands out.”

The one-time England international frontman added: “It’s Postecoglou’s turn now and his side have been unbeatable in their own stadium domestically since he arrived.

“It’s incredible they haven’t lost a solitary match on home soil in almost two seasons and it’s hard to imagine St Mirren ending that run, despite the result in Paisley earlier this term.

CITY SLICKER…Patrick Roberts thumps in Celtic’s goal in the 1-1 draw in 2016 against parent club Manchester City at The Etihad,

“They’ve been comprehensively seen off each time since. But how does Postecoglou transfer that to the Champions League?

“It’s not going to be easy, but it has to be the next step in his progression if he is to take Celtic where he wants to go. I’m a big admirer of how he plays. The fact he sticks to his principles.

“Even if I was watching through the cracks in my fingers when Celtic were 5-0 down in the Bernabeu with just an hour gone and were still throwing bodies forward and getting countered.

“Postecoglou won’t change his ways. But that doesn’t mean he can’t tweak them and I’ve a hunch he might well do just that next season. Plaudits are all very well, but he’s all about results and, if it has to be reined in a bit to get them, then that’s what’ll have to happen.

“He’s too smart not to see that. He needs to keep certain players. Buying and selling will come in the summer, but he has to keep Reo Hatate, Cameron Carter Vickers, Kyogo Furuhashi and Callum McGregor. The draw, obviously, will play a part in how it goes.

HEADMASTER…Cameron Carter-Vickers is crucial to Celtic.

“Champions League success is asking too much in the current climate, but performing well, obtaining a scalp, then getting past Christmas and making a mark in the Europa League is not.

“Rangers proved that under Giovanni van Bronckhorst last season when doing the same as Martin’s team and getting to a Final in Seville.

“Postecoglou has ruled Scotland. His task now is to make that mark abroad just as we did 20 years ago.

“And fighting well in your own backyard is key to winning a few rounds and bloodying those noses.”

The champions will know their fate in the group stages when the draw is made on August 31, shortly after the qualifying ties have been settled.

Matchday 1 is scheduled for September 19/20 with the second match due on October 3/4. Next up will be the third encounter on October 24/25 with the fourth on November 7/8.

The fifth will be played on November 28/29 with the last group meeting on December 12/13.

The knock-out stages kick off on February 13/14 with the second leg the following week.

The Final is due for Wembley on June 1 2024.

Over to you, Ange!

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report and best in action images from Celtic v St Mirren this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.

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