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Football: FREE THE CELTIC 1; MART: FREE CELTIC ONE O'Neill: We may use cops to clear Rab for NouCamp.

Byline: By Keith Jackson

CELTIC manager Martin O'Neill may call in the cops to help clear Rab Douglas for the crunch return leg with Barcelona.

Douglas was red-carded in a thrilling UEFA Cup clash at Parkhead last night when a brawl erupted in the tunnel at half-time.

Ten-man Celtic went on to clinch a dramatic 1-0 victory with a second-half strike from Alan Thompson but must now travel to the Catalan capital without first-choice keeper Douglas and defensive colossus Bobo Balde, who was booked in last night's thriller.

O'Neill revealed he may speak to the police in an attempt to build a case for an appeal against Douglas' dismissal.

The Irishman said: 'I know Rab feels exceptionally hard done by. He was going into intervene in whatever was Villareal happening and he is certainly portraying his innocence in the fracas.

'The incident definitely spoiled what had been a pretty sporting contest and Rab is irritated that he had been sent off the field.

'I think we will have to take a look at this tomorrow to see if wecan clear up what happened.

'The police were in the tunnel and we will take some advice because perhaps someone has taken a view of whatever happened. When we have spoken to these people we will see if there is anything we can do to clear Rab's name.'

If Celtic fail to clear their keeper, they will be forced to go with 19--year-old rookie David Marshall.

Sources inside Celtic Park were adamant that Douglas only got involved when he saw Neil Lennon being set upon by Barcelona's stars.

Reacted Thiago Motta was also red-carded for his involvement and was spoken to by the police. But Barca boss Frank Rijkaard insisted his men were not to blame.

He said: 'Do not say this was Barcelona's fault.You can also say that the police were involved with the players of Celtic.

'Motta changed in the dressing room at half-time and then came into the tunnel to see the game. Celtic fans reacted when they saw him and the police advised him to go inside.

'That's why he was spoken to but the players of Barcelona did not start this incident.' O'Neill had gone into last night's clash with his injury- ravaged squad stretched to breaking point.The Irishman did not even have enough substitutes to fill his bench after losing a string of big names like Chris Sutton, John Hartson, Joos Valgaeren, Shaun Maloney and Johan Mjallby.

And he was quick to shower praise on the men who secured arguable the greatest victory of his Parkhead tenure.

He said: 'This was a wonderful victory for us considering the circumstances. It was a great effort from the team to beat a Barcelona side which is flying right now.

'Regardless of how the second game goes the players were magnificent tonight. Maybe at some stage somebody might realise that we've got one or two decent players.

'They have been a credit to this club over the past couple of years and they were magnificent tonight. Naturally I am delighted to have scored but whether it is enough of a lead to take to Barcelona is debatable.

'But if we have Sutton back for the second leg I think we will be capable of scoring over there.'

Barca were reduced to nine men shortly after half-time when Javier Saviola saw red for a wild lunge on goal hero Thompson.

And Rijkaard was forced to admit that his players lost their bottle.

He said: 'My players lost their nerve. They were a little bit tense out there and it showed. But the players who stayed out there still did a wonderful job and now we have 90 minutes left in Barcelona to turn the tie around.'

Strange Rijkaard then insisted UEFA were right to order his team into action on the same day that terrorists claimed almost 200 lives in the Spanish capital Madrid.

He said: 'It was a strange situation because at breakfast we saw the breaking news and that gave the daya very sad feeling for all of us.

'But deep down I knew UEFA would want us to play the game and I think it was right.

'But certainly something as terrible as this makes you realise there are things more important than football.'

BBC Scotland will screen the UEFA Cup fourth round, second leg between Celtic and Barcelona live on March 25.The game at the Nou Camp kicks off at 8pm and will also be shown on BBC Three.

CAPTION(S):

STARK WARNING: German referee Wolfgang Stark, left, is caught up in the melee at Celtic Park last night; KID GLOVES: David Marshall; SCISSOR HAPPY: Alan Thompson's acrobatic strike hands Celtic a famous victory over the La Liga giants at Parkhead last night PICTURE: ROB CASEY
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 12, 2004
Words:803
Previous Article:Football: Celts rivals in a sweat after away day blues; UEFA CUP Round-up.
Next Article:Football: What a great game ... it's just a shame UEFA suits insisted that it went ahead; Barca lose the plot as country suffers.


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