Sport

Brown: We stick by Tonev

Ronnie Esplin in Bucharest

SKIPPER Scott Brown insists the Celtic dressing room is right behind race row winger Aleksandar Tonev. The Bulgarian winger - on loan from Aston Villa - was suspended by the Scottish Football Association for seven matches for using "offensive, insulting and abusive language of a racist nature" towards Aberdeen defender Shay Logan when the two teams met in September.

Tonev (inset) missed the 1-0 home Premiership win over Inverness at the weekend, but travelled to Romania with the rest of the Hoops' squad for the Europa League clash with Astra Giurgiu tonight.

Celtic appealed the decision yesterday and at the Hoops' pre-match press conference in Bucharest, the Scotland midfielder offered his thoughts on the issue.

He said: "We all stick by him. We know he didn't say it, so I think that's the main thing and all the lads in the dressing room believe him.

"I don't think he needs to explain himself. We all believe him, he says he didn't do it and we stand by him.

"We know Aleksandar doesn't come in and lie. He talks to everyone in that changing room so we have no problem."

Manger Ronny Deila, who watched striker Anthony Stokes turn up at the airport before getting sent home with a sore throat and a fever, also remains steadfast behind Tonev, although he admits it will be easier to play him against Astra than against Aberdeen at Pittodrie at the weekend.

He said: "We will talk with him. I think it is easier to play in Europe than to play in Scotland right now, because of what is happening and also because it is also against Aberdeen, so it will be tougher to play than right now.

"I don't think anyone in Romania is interested in that case.

"I understand that it is a tough situation for him and the club. We

have put in the appeal and hopefully we get that right because this is a very hard penalty when it is word against word, and we believe the player."

Celtic are behind Salzburg at the top of Group D with seven points from three games, following their 2-1 win over the Romanian outfit in Glasgow last month. Deila believes 10 points should be enough to get through to the last 32, an achievement he believes would beat winning the league with Stromsgodset in Norway.

"I am happy with the position," he said.

"We have three very hard games now. It is quite tight but I think if we get victory tomorrow we have a very good chance of going through and it would be the biggest achievement of my career. It will be very big. We are talking about Europe now."

Brown would not be drawn too much on the League Cup semi-final draw against Rangers, which will take place next year, describing it only as, "Interesting. It is going to be a great day but I think there are a lot of great days to come before that".

However, when asked about the importance of the Europa League to the Parkhead club, he pointed to Celtic's UEFA Cup run in 2003 when they reached the final in Seville only to be beaten by Porto.

"I know we have got to the last 16 of the Champions League in the past but it is a huge competition for the club," he said.

"It was one of the best days in the club's history when the team got to Seville a few years back so it shows you that it is a big competition.

"We are going to take every game as it comes.

"Tomorrow is going to be hard, it is going to be competitive, so it should be a great game. We would love to get three points but it will be a battle."

In addition to the late withdrawal of Stokes, Celtic will once again be without John Guidetti for Europe. The 22-year-old Swedish striker has scored nine goals in nine games since arriving on loan from Manchester City but the deal was not completed in time for him to be registered for the group stages of the Europa League.

GROUP D

P W D L F A GD pts

Celtic 3 2 1 0 5 3 2 7 Red Bull Salzburg 3 2 1 0 8 5 3 7 Dinamo Zagreb 3 1 0 2 7 6 1 3 FC Astra Giurgiu 3 0 0 3 3 9 -6 0

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