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Callum McGregor insists Red Imps loss will keep Celtic focused in Europe

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Callum McGregor reckons being rocked in Gibraltar will ensure Celtic are on full alert for their crunch one-off Champions League qualifiers.

The Parkhead side are gearing up for their return to action and although the Premiership fixture list has yet to be revealed, the pathway in Europe has been laid out for the Hoops.

Neil Lennon’s side must ?negotiate three 90-minute shoot-outs before a two-legged play-off to reach the group stage with the schedule curtailed due to the Covid-19 lay-off.

McGregor believes there are positives to be taken from the different set-up.

And having watched from the bench when Lincoln Red Imps shocked Brendan Rodgers’ team in an away leg four years ago, the playmaker insists that’s warning enough to ensure everyone is bang on it for each challenge.

(Image: SNS Group)

McGregor said: “It’s straight knock-out now. In some ways it’s a positive as you know what is required in the 90 minutes.

“On the flip side, you know if you don’t play well there is no recovery. It intensifies the ?situation as you will have to be at it on the night.

“Likewise, if you do that you are straight though. So it works both ways.

“We’re a group that likes to focus on the positives. The ?preparations will be good and we’ll back ourselves to adapt to one-leg affairs and get through.

“European football can be pretty unforgiving. Sometimes you have to experience these things to learn and you have to make sure you bounce back.

“We learned that lesson and I’m sure there is still a core of players here who were involved that night (against Red Imps).

“The lessons were learned from that night and I’m sure the message will be that we have to be on our game from the start.”

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Perhaps the biggest bonus for Lennon is the fact the games will not be their first competitive matches of the term.

In previous campaigns, Euro ties in mid-summer have kickstarted the campaign but Celtic will now have league matches under their belt before going on to the continental scene.

McGregor said: “We will have had more training time as a group and should have had a few competitive games under our belts by the time the qualifiers come around.

“That’s a major positive. It’s not the first game when you have one leg and are immediately under pressure. By that stage everyone will be ready to go.”

Having been out of action for over three months now, Lennon’s side are itching to get back into the groove.

Training is underway at Lennoxtown and the club are finalising plans to take part in a pre-season tournament in France to sharpen their match practice.

With the 2019/20 Scottish Cup campaign still unresolved, Celtic may be in a position to win a quartet of trophies in one season this term and McGregor said: “It’s funny, we could win four. It might be a good pub question.

“The Scottish Cup is still in the background and it could be an exciting year. But all of that is a long way off. The focus is on getting back playing again.”

When they do get restarted, McGregor will be leading the group along with fellow stalwarts such as skipper Scott Brown and James Forrest.

The trio have been key in ?Celtic’s recent dominance and the midfielder has nothing but praise for his nine-in-a-row-winning team-mates.

Brown turned 35 last week, while Forrest has won an ?astonishing 19 medals and McGregor said: “Broony’s still at his peak level and these last couple of seasons has played like a 23-year-old.

“We had to get the numbers three and five out as we wouldn’t have fit all the candles on his cake!

“He’s incredible. He’s getting older but looks younger on the pitch. Every season he has this desire to keep pushing himself and the lads. It’s an unbelievable testament to his professionalism. It’s second to none.

(Image: SNS Group)

“He’s certainly inspirational to guys like myself.

“Jamesie is a couple of medals ahead of me, so I’ll need to start kicking him in training! As long as I keep playing after he chucks it I might have a chance of catching him.

“It’s incredible when you take stock of how much you have won and what it has been like to have been part of such a successful group of players.

“It’s something to be really proud of. When you are young you dream of winning trophies and if you can win one you would be buzzing. But to have won so many in such a short period of time is incredible.”

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