CELTIC manager Gordon Strachan was defiant in defeat in the wake of his team's 1-0 Champions League loss to Villareal in Spain last week. The Bhoys have now taken only one point from a possible 48 away from home in the group stages of the competition and have only one point going to Manchester United for their next game.

"It was the most comfortable I've been away from home since I came here," stressed Strachan. "We worried them when we had the ball.

"I asked the players to go out to perform and I think the first half performance, plus 10 minutes of the second half, was excellent against a right good side.

"I actually enjoyed watching a game away from home."

Strachan did admit that the defeat in Spain makes qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League difficult.

"We've got a mountain to climb now, but I would say we've proved we can play at this level," said Strachan. "And for the first time away from home I sat back and thought I was happy with what I was seeing."

"We worried them when we had the ball, whereas in the past we didn't really look threatening away from home. I asked the players to perform and I don't think anyone would disagree that for 55 minutes we were excellent and reasonably comfortable at the back.

"After that, whether by design or coincidence, they started to work our areas of the pitch. But that performance is all right, that's good enough to win games in most places in the Champions League.

"It's just unfortunate we came up against one of the best teams in Europe at the present moment."

Celtic's 4-0 win at home to Hamilton on Saturday was marred by a first minute injury to Dutch striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Shunsuke Nakamura, Giorgios Samaras, Scott McDonald and Aiden McGeady were on the scoresheet and Artur Boruc saved a James McArthur penalty as the Bhoys won comfortably.

The injury was the biggest concern for Strachan afterwards who said, "It is an abductor muscle injury, so that's not good news. That's the only downside to the day to be honest.

"I don't know how long he will be out. He had been carrying a wee injury but it was something completely different.

"He doesn't know yet what happened. I thought it was his knee at first so I'm happy that it wasn't that.

"I am absolutely delighted with the performance. The attitude pleased me. It could have been a problem. It was windy, wet, we had just played a European tie and had been on the plane for a long time.

"To start the way we did with energy and taking it from there, that pleased me. All the players were terrific."

Strachan and striker Giorgios Samaras have been named Scotland's manager of the month and player of the month respectively for September.

"It's my first award and I hope more of them will come," said the Greek goal scorer. "First of all, I must thank the manager and my teammates because without them I wouldn't have won this award.

"The only thing I can do is continue to work hard and help the team perform well and score goals. I'm at a club where they really trust me, they respect me and that's really important for me. I don't need anything else.

"I'm feeling good and I'm sure there's more to come. I'm never happy with myself. I always want to improve and progress in my career, and I want to do more things for myself and for my team."

Given's Ire

IRISH goalkeeper Shay Given has slammed Stephen Ireland's international exile and questioned the Manchester City star's motives.

The Donegal-born Newcastle goalie has slammed Ireland for turning his back on his country at a time when people are going to war over national pride.

"I don't understand him not wanting to play for his country when there are people fighting wars for their country," said Given.

"To play a game of football for your country is an absolute honor. I can't understand him staying away.

"I don't know what his reasons are - I don't see why he shouldn't be playing. He should just come out and say whatever he wants to say and then we all move on."

Meanwhile, Richard Dunne has declared himself fit for next week's World Cup qualifier against Cyprus, but doubts remain about Sunderland midfielder Liam Miller who is struggling with a groin injury.

Steven Reid, Steve Finnan and Stephen Kelly are already out of the game through injury. Goalkeeper Joe Murphy and fit again winger Damien Duff are included in a 21 man squad.

Soccer Shorts

THE eircom League First Division game between Wexford Youths and Limerick 37 was postponed at the last minute on Monday night after a bizarre dispute over a warm-up area for the visitors who then refused to play the game. The FAI are to investigate the postponement . . .

SCOTLAND are to make a fresh bid to lure Hamilton's Ireland under-21 winger James McCarthy back to the country of his birth, but FAI chiefs are confident that he will stand by his earlier decision to declare for the Republic . . .

IRELAND under-21 boss Don Givens has called Padraig Amond of Shamrock Rovers and James Berrett of Huddersfield Town into his squad for next Tuesday's friendly match against Lithuania . . .

GALWAY United's Jay O'Shea and Bohemians' Gary Deegan have been drafted into the Ireland under-23 squad for the Challenge Trophy clash with Belgium at Dalymount Park later this month . . .

SUNDERLAND boss Roy Keane has dismissed speculation linking him with a move for old foe Patrick Vieira, now at Inter Milan . . .

FORMER Irish defender Andy O'Brien has signed a contract extension with Bolton Wanderers . . .

LUTON Town have signed Irish midfielder Gareth O'Connor, released by Burnley last April.

Connacht Wins

CONNACHT shocked Leinster with a 19-18 Magners League win in Galway on Sunday night which earned lavish praise from coach Michael Bradley.

"Obviously I'm thrilled and delighted. I think it was a fantastic performance. We played quality rugby when we had the ball," said Bradley.

"The defense was excellent and playing with 14 men for most of the second half, the win was a credit to Connacht and a credit to the team.

"We had some poor results away this year and at home there is a good relationship between the team and the supporters. The crowd were excellent."

In other rugby news, Declan Kidney has appointed Welshman Paul Pook as Ireland's new strength and conditioning coach for the forthcoming international rugby season.

Munster marked their return to the new look Thomond Park with a 25-17 Magners League win over Glasgow on Saturday night.

And Irish flanker Neil Best has failed in an appeal against an 18-week ban for eye gouging while on club duty with Northampton.

GAA Shorts

BRIAN Mullins is now the favorite to become the new Dublin football manager next month, a move that will be welcomed by Blues legend John O'Leary. The former Hill 16 favorite told the Irish Examiner, "There are enough people with passion inside the county and we need somebody who can instill the Tyrone and Kerry mentality on the pitch." . . .

NEW disciplinary rules will be put on trial in the National Leagues next spring when any player yellow carded will be immediately replaced and not allowed take any further part in the game. A special congress will then discuss the rule changes before deciding if they will be used in next year's championship . . .

GALWAY hurling is in shock following the death of senior panelist Paul Flynn, 24, who died in a car crash on Sunday. A county board meeting to discuss Ger Loughnane's future as boss, scheduled for Tuesday night, was postponed as a mark of respect . . .

THE Donegal board have received a total of six applications for their vacant county team manager's job, with Declan Bonner, John Joe Doherty, Michael Houston, Francie Martin, Jim McGuinness and Charlie Mulgrew all in the frame . . .

CORK fans are confident that Aisake O hAilpin could return to the county football squad in the spring when his current deal with the Carlton Aussie Rules side expires . . .

KILKENNY'S hurler of the year Eoin Larkin is to undergo groin surgery and could miss the 2009 National Hurling League campaign . . .

JUSTIN McCarthy is in line to take over as manager of the Limerick hurlers less than six months after he left the Waterford job . . .

TYRONE'S All-Ireland winning minor star Kyle Coney has signed a two year with the Sydney Swans Australian Rules team . . .

BRIAN White is in line for a return to work as manager of the Antrim footballers in succession to Jody Gormley . . .

FORMER Kildare footballer Glenn Ryan is the new manager of the Longford senior football team.

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