NIR BITTON is determined to make up for lost time after missing almost a year with a complicated knee injury.

The versatile Israeli international, who played at centre-back in Celtic’s 3-1 victory over FK Sarajevo in the opening Champions League qualifier in Bosnia on Tuesday, made only five starts for the team last season.

However, he is determined to hit the ground running this time out – and the 27-year-old midfielder is aiming high.

Bitton, speaking to the Evening Times, said: “I think every season that I have been at Celtic has been very challenging for us.

“It’s such a big club to play for and that means there is always pressure and expectations placed onto you at all times.

“The Champions League group stage is a big target for us. If we can get that, it will be a big boost for all of us. We just need to make sure we go to the games all the way through the qualifiers and we concentrate.

“We conceded a goal against Sarajevo and it was a little bit sloppy. We need to cut that out if we want to play in the group stages. We want it this season, so we know what needs to be done.

”Obviously, it was good to win. None of those games are easy and usually it’s difficult to play them. You go to a stadium with 25,000 people in there, the pitch is not the best, it’s early in the season and the only thing matters is the result. With this to consider, we are happy.”

UP FOR THE CUP…Nir Bitton celebrates at Hampden after the 2-1 win over Hearts on May 25.

Neil Lennon left £7million new Bhoy Christopher Jullien on the substitutes’ bench in Bosnia to pair the Israeli with Jozo Simunovic and Bitton was delighted to rally to the call.

He added: “I really appreciate that the gaffer rates me. He was the one who brought me into Celtic and he believed in me when he did that.

“He gave me the confidence to play in the first place and, for as long as he gives me chances in the future, I’ll always try to do my best for him, for the fans and for the club because of all of the faith they have shown in me.

“I’m just happy to be part of this club and we’ll see in the future.

“I always feel that I can do a job for Celtic. I’ve said it before that when you play for a club which is the size of this, you always expect to have competition for places and have to earn the chances to play.

“You always have other players who will push you to the edge of to the limit, new players coming to the club, players showing good form and that is the best thing about playing here.

“You know that if you take your foot off the gas for just one short time, you can lose your space in the team and when you get the opportunities to play, you must take them and perform.

“I will always try to compete within that and do my best for every single minute that I am given on the pitch. Hopefully, I will get a chance to play more this season.”

Although Bitton rarely featured last season, he still ended the campaign on a high when he came on as a late substitute for Jonny Hayes in the 2-1 Scottish Cup Final success over Hearts at Hampden on May 25 as the Parkhead men sealed the phenomenal treble treble.


About Author


Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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