Champions League - Ledley rallies team for Europe test

Celtic face losing a £7.4million windfall if they fail to overturn Shakhter Karagandy's two-goal Champions League lead, but midfielder Joe Ledley hopes the pressure situation will inspire the Hoops to another memorable success.

PA Sport
Champions League - Ledley rallies team for Europe test

View photo

Joe Ledley hopes Celtic can thrive on the pressure

Reaching the group stages promises a huge initial cash injection through prize money, but Neil Lennon's side are perched on a knife-edge following their first-leg defeat in Kazakhstan.

Ledley has already tasted the drama of several big European nights in Glasgow's east end after playing a crucial part in Celtic's run to the last 16 last term.

Now he believes the make-or-break climax to this season's qualifying bid will bring out the best in himself and his team-mates.

He said: "This is one of the biggest games of my life - so much is at stake.

"So much depends on this game and there is so much pressure on myself and my team-mates. Hopefully we can thrive on it and go from there.

"We want to play in the Champions League, it's a fantastic competition. Last season was one of the best in our careers and hopefully we can qualify again."

In the past, the might of Celtic's 60,000-strong backing from the stands has been enough to close the on-pitch gap with world-class opponents such as AC Milan, Manchester United and Barcelona.

And the pageantry that has come to be known as the hallmark of such occasions at Celtic Park was last week safeguarded when the club reversed plans to break up the controversial Green Brigade group after receiving assurances they would improve their behaviour.

And with the ultras in place, Ledley is convinced the supporters can play their own important role.

"The fans' role is massive," he said. "They have been brilliant ever since I've been here and I'm sure the fans will be exactly the same against Karagandy.

"The Old Firm is a fantastic atmosphere but when it's the Champions League, I don't think anything can beat it. The day we played Barcelona was one of the greatest moments of my life and the atmosphere was fantastic that night.

"I think the Green Brigade are fantastic. They bring the atmosphere to Celtic Park and without them, it wouldn't be so good.

"My family come up and all they talk about is the Green Brigade. They set the atmosphere alight."

The Hoops are Scotland's last remaining participants in continental competition after Hibernian, Motherwell and St Johnstone all made early exits from the Europa League.

But Ledley claims it is the importance of further progress to Celtic alone that is the club's main concern.

"We are just trying to do it for ourselves and for the team. It's very important for Scottish football to put it back on the map.

"But we need it for Celtic as well. It's a massive club and the fans follow us wherever we go, so it's very important that we get the result we need."

Celtic were stunned by Karagandy's display in the Astana first leg as Andrei Finonchenko and Sergey Khizhnichenko put them ahead.

But Ledley insists the Kazakhs were not underestimated.

He said: "We were surprised by them? Not really. We did our homework and knew they were going to be well organised and dangerous on set-plays. That's where the first goal came from, a long throw.

"They are a big team and dangerous from set-plays. But we can't let that get inside our head. We just have to play the way we would normally.

"They didn't really surprise us as we knew they were going to be a good team and they proved that.

"We dominated possession in the first game and they sat in. I'd be surprised if they came out and attacked in the second leg but whatever formation they play we need to be able to break them down.

"Everyone would want an early goal but we scored two against Inverness at the weekend pretty late, and as long as we get two or three, and do not concede, I will be happy."

View comments (8)