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Football: DIDI SUFFERS A HEART BREAKER; OLD FIRM LATEST Wing-back ruled out until New Year.

Byline: TIM GORDON

CELTIC manager Martin O'Neill has confirmed that Didier Agathe is likely to be sidelined for up to three months.

The pacy wing-back sustained ligament damage during the Hoops' 1-0 win against Hearts on Saturday.

Hearts defender Andy Webster caught Agathe in the knee just five minutes before the break and the subsequent penalty award allowed Celtic to take all three points.

The Frenchman faces a scan today to examine the full extend of the injury which comes in the week the Parkhead side face a huge double-header against Spanish giants Valencia and Old Firm rivals Rangers.

But O'Neill admits he does not expect to see the player back in action until early next year.

O'Neill told the club's official website: "It doesn't look good at all. Didier has sustained ligament damage and will almost certainly be out for the rest of the year.

"It looks like we will be without him for anything up to three months, and it goes without saying that it would be a massive blow to us if that proves to be the case.

"He's been absolutely terrific for us ever since coming to the football club and will be sorely missed in the weeks ahead."

But there is better news regarding injured defender Joos Valgaeren who missed Saturday's game with a knee injury.

He is set to travel with the rest of the squad to Spain tomorrow.

A club spokesperson said: "His situation is a bit more optimistic. It is likely that he will travel but it is too early to say whether he will play or not."

That means talented youngster Stephen Crainey could be thrust into the spotlight at the Mestalla Stadium where the Spaniards are unbeaten in the last 20 games.

Crainey, who turned in a solid performance in the win against Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday, is expected to fill in for Valgaeren again but may could now start in place of Agathe.

Wherever he plays Crainey is unfazed by the task and admits he is determined to stake his claim for a first team place despite only gaining his chance through injuries.

The 20-year-old replaced Valgaeren in the 1-0 win at Tynecastle against Hearts on Saturday but says he will bide his time over the next seven days.

"I was just pleased to get the start - big Joos was struggling and I was told an hour before kick-off that I would be playing," said Crainey.

"I was delighted to take part and I'll just take each game as it comes now.

"I play with the Under-21s every week so it's just a case of keeping your fitness up and hoping that you get a run.

"I feel as though I can get the ball and pass it - that's one of my strengths - and hopefully I'll get a run."

And if Crainey comes through his Spanish test unscathed he could cap a dream week by making his Old Firm debut in Sunday's SPL clash with Rangers at Parkhead.

Meanwhile, UEFA have given permission for Celtic to show the Valencia game on large screens at Celtic Park.

The BBC's decision to show live coverage of Rangers' third round tie against Paris St Germain, which also takes place on Thursday, meant that Celtic supporters looked like losing out on the chance to see their team in action in the away leg.

Security issues meant that plans for a beamback screening at Parkhead were initially thought to be unlikely to proceed because Glasgow rivals Rangers are in action in the city on the same night.

But Celtic have managed to negotiate a screening of the tie against the Spanish giants at 8.30pm on the condition that a limited number of tickets are sold.

That means supporters are restricted to the lower part of the north stand although a live webcast will be shown on the club's official website and tickets for the beamback will be redeemable against merchandise from Celtic stores.

Celtic chief executive Ian McLeod said: "I am delighted that Celtic Football Club has been able to bring this exciting and important game to our fans.

"I know that the decision not to broadcast this leg of the tie had caused great disappointment, especially to the many thousands of supporters who have followed the team in Europe since the pre-season tour.

"Our successful negotiation of a deal to show the live game both at Celtic Park on the big screens as well as on the internet means many people will have the opportunity to see this crucial game in its entirety.

"I am also pleased to be able to offer our supporters an early Christmas present by making the game a free offer to everyone who buys a ticket.

"I have been overwhelmed by the response to the team's performance this season and saw this special evening as an opportunity to say 'thank you'"

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SCREEN IDOL: Celtic fans will be able to watch Henrik Larsson on large screens at Celtic Park
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 20, 2001
Words:834
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