Coyle backs Celtic for a Maribor knockout

CELTIC will win against NK Maribor tomorrow night and march into the Group Stage of the Champions League.

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Celtic keeper Lukasz Zaluska looks on as a deflection off Eoghan O'Connell gives Inverness Caley Thistle their winning goal
Celtic keeper Lukasz Zaluska looks on as a deflection off Eoghan O'Connell gives Inverness Caley Thistle their winning goal

That's the confident prediction from a man who knows all about beating the Slovenian champions in European competition - and really isn't impressed by anything Maribor have to offer.

Owen Coyle was manager of Wigan when they played them in last season's Europa Cup Group Stage.

The Latics won 3-1 at their DW Stadium, with two goals from Nick Powell and one from Ben Watson, to record the club's first-ever victory in European competition.

By the time Wigan travelled to Slovenia to meet Maribor again, Coyle had been replaced as manager by Uwe Rossler, and they lost 2-1.

However, the former Republic of Ireland striker is convinced Celtic should have come away from Maribor with more than a 1-1 draw from the first leg, and is even more certain they will get the result they need at Celtic Park.

In his capacity as a summariser for BT Sport, Coyle watched a shadow Celtic side lose 1-0 at Inverness on Saturday, passing up a clutch of good chances to open the scoring before Eoghan O'Connell deflected a weak Lukas Zaluska clearance into his own net.

But Coyle has seen enough of Ronny Deila's real team to know they have what is required to open the door to the Champions League for a third successive season.

And there is nothing about Maribor that causes him to fear another Legia-type disaster awaits.

The man of many clubs, as a player and manager, insists the Slovenians have nothing in their locker other than what they showed last week and said: "Maribor don't play any differently away from home than what you saw them do on their own pitch last week.

"They don't particularly press high up the field. They allow you to have the ball.

"I said before the first game that I was so confident Celtic would progress because I don't think Maribor are a particularly good side. I think that was very evident in the first leg.

"We played them at Wigan last year, and we beat them 3-1. If truth be told, it should have been five or six one. We outplayed them, outpassed them, everything.

"They allow the ball to go into the ball areas, as you saw again last week when Celtic played in Slovenia. And they allow crosses into into the box."

All of which Celtic can capitalise on tomorrow night.

While Coyle does not rate Maribor as a team, he does, however, warn a few of their players must be watched.

He said: "They do have one or two very good players.

"Zeljko Filipovic (who laid on the ball for Maribor's goal in the first leg) is a centre-back who played in midfield last week, and is good passer of the ball.

"Damjan Bohar can score a goal, as we saw with in the first leg.

"Marcos Tavares is a good striker, and Jean-Philippe Mendy, who came on in the second half, is also a very good striker.

"I actually think they are better with Tavares and Mendy every time together, but they didn't do that to start with last week.

"I now fully expect Celtic to go on and win the game on Tuesday, and I will be very surprised if they don't progress to the Group Stage."

Given the troubled path Celtic have followed to this point, requiring Uefa intervention to give them a second chance after initially going out 6-1 to a Legia side which contained an ineligible player, Coyle fully understands no-one in the Hoops camp will consider it job done in quite the manner he does.

MARIBOR did, after all, beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv at home then draw 2-2 in Israel to get to this stage, having earlier drawn in Bosnia against Zrinjski before finishing them off in Slovenia.

Coyle is fully aware of this, but reiterated: "Maribor are not a good side, and that is factual.

"Everyone saw it with their own eyes, and there is no getting away from that.

"As much as they got past Maccabi Tel-Aviv to get to the play-offs, you only had to look at last week when Tel-Aviv lost in the Europa League (to Greek side, Asteris Triplos) to put that in perspective."

Certainly, the bookies are in no doubt that Celtic's will be the name going into the hat for the Group Stage draw on Thursday while Maribor will be heading back to the Europa League.

The Slovenians did get a much-needed confidence boost at the weekend when they defeated Zavrc 3-0 at home to go second top of the league, their goals coming from Bohar, Lukas Zahovic and Mendy.

They might also be lifted by the news Celtic lost at Inverness, though, on closer examination they will see that, of the side selected by Deila to start -which saw 10 changes from Maribor - only Efe Ambrose, Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons, Leigh Griffiths and Nir Bitton are in contention to be in the XI which lines up to listen to the Champions League theme tune boom out over Celtic Park tomorrow night.

Whoever is charged with getting Celtic over the line in the race for a Champions League bonanza, Coyle does not think it is a just case of having to hold their nerve.

"It's a case of Celtic going out and just playing well," he explained.

"Celtic have got players who can hurt the opposition. They showed that in the first leg, and should have won that game.

"They were the better side on the night. And, if they replicate that performance, it will be good enough to take care of Maribor.

"I have no doubts about that."

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