BRENDAN RODGERS is refusing to panic over his central defensive problems ahead of Celtic’s Champions League third round qualifier against Astana in Kazakhstan tomorrow afternoon.

Erik Sviatchenko and Kristoffer Ajer joined long-term crocks Jozo Simunovic and Dedryck Boyata on the injury list while new signing Kolo Toure remained in Glasgow to work on his fitness.

Efe Ambrose and 20-year-old Eoghan O’Connell, who scored against Leicester at the weekend, but who has yet to play in Europe, are the only two centre-backs available although Mikael Lustig could be called in.

The Hoops boss said: “Sviatchenko has been working well, but, unfortunately, before the game at the weekend he picked up a groin strain which makes him unavailable.

“We will assess that over the course of the next week and see if he can be available for the second leg. In these games, it is always going to be the case of doing the very best that we could with the limited time and numbers that we have.

“But I am confident that whatever team we put out will do their very best, like we did in Saturday’s game against Leicester. Ambrose and O’Connell have worked very well, in particular, young Eoghan. I have been really impressed with him over the course of the pre-season.

“He is a good size, first and foremost he wants to defend and in the short period I have worked with him, he is good in the air. He has been in and around the first team for a few years now.

“He was up against tough opponents at the weekend, even though Leicester have only been back a few weeks, they were already fit and I thought Eoghan coped with that very well, the speed of their team.

“He has a brain for football, he understands the game very well for a young player and, importantly, he plays the game well. For a young player, if he shows those qualities and professionalism, I never have any fears of putting him in.

“In terms of Efe, everyone has seen, and people have seen a lot more than I have of him, he knows that if he can cut out mistakes or errors that he makes in games, then you have a very good player because physically he is very strong, very fast, good in the air.

“It’s about decision-making and simplifying the game. If he can do that, he can be an asset. I have no qualms about who I put into the game. 

“The strength of us will always be the team rather than the individual and the team that we put out will, hopefully, get the result.”

Rodgers is hoping to keep the tie alive for the return a week tomorrow, where the home fans could see new Bhoy Toure make his debut.

He added: “Kolo Toure will be a lot closer next week, I expect him to play some part. It is important that we go back to Celtic Park in good condition. We don’t need to win it tomorrow.

“We will have the support at Celtic Park and the intensity and atmosphere that the team play under there will always make it difficult for our opponents.

“But we respect the team that we play tomorrow. They will look to the home game to make the maximum impact that they can in the tie.”


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