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By Alex O'Henley in Glasgow
Celtic FC have suffered "a massive blow" ahead of their UEFA Cup fourth-round tie against FC Barcelona with the news that Chris Sutton will not be fit to play in the first leg in Glasgow. It had been hoped that Sutton would have recovered from an ankle injury in time to face the Catalan side, but manager Martin O'Neill confirmed the English forward has failed to respond to treatment and will miss the game.
"It's a massive blow and we're all disappointed," said O'Neill. "We thought the injury would clear up in a matter of days, but it hasn't got any better and we will now check with an expert on Friday morning. It's disappointing for us all but especially for Chris to miss out on a big game like this."
With strikers John Hartson and Shaun Maloney already ruled out for the rest of the season, the loss of Sutton means that Celtic will have Henrik Larsson as their only recognised striker. O'Neill is also sweating over the fitness of defenders Bobo Balde and Joos Valgaeren who missed training on Wednesday.
Last season's UEFA Cup finalists boast an incredible home record of 73 matches unbeaten in all competitions stretching back to August 2001. However, O'Neill knows that achievement is likely to come under severe threat from an in-form Barcelona side who have put together their own impressive run of nine games without defeat.
'Winning in style'
"A number of players are in very good form for Barcelona," said O'Neill. "Eight or nine weeks ago morale didn't seem to be that high in the camp. Now they're winning in style, home and away.
It would be a big ask for us even if the likes of Sutton and Hartson were available, but they're not and we just have to get on with it."
Stilian Petrov may be asked to fill the void left by Sutton up front, as the Bulgaria captain played as an auxiliary striker in the 1-0 win against Rangers FC at the weekend. "We are obviously going to miss Chris," said Petrov. "You could see that in the game against Rangers, Henrik was a bit lonely up front. But this game will be different."
Barcelona have their own injuries, with Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Patrick Kluivert out with knee problems. Fellow Dutchman Edgar Davids is ineligible, and defender Carles Puyol is struggling to overcome a bout of gastroenteritis.
Coach Frank Rijkaard was in cautious mood, saying: "We have to be aware that Celtic have a lot of height in their side. We must prevent them from getting too many set-pieces because they are very good at exploiting those kind of opportunities. Of course we are confident and it must be our objective to win, but we can't afford to relax."
Midfield player Phillip Cocu is expecting the sell-out 60,000 crowd to play a serious role in the outcome. "Celtic are a good team but their home advantage and the home crowd is their biggest threat to us," Cocu told uefa.com. "It will be a tough game but it's about two matches, not one, and the first game will not be decisive."
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