Celtic's season hinges on whether they overcome a 2-0 first-leg deficit in what will be a tense and highly-charged Champions League match at Parkhead tonight. Neil Lennon did his best to mobilise the supporters by insisting the Kazakhstan champions had been "disrespectful" since the first leg. The manager also spoke of the anger in the Celtic dressing room about the outcome of last week's first leg, a view which was confirmed by Samaras.
The usually laconic Greek spoke with undisguised disgust about how vulnerable Celtic's position was against such modest opposition. "I don't remember ever being this angry going into a game," he said. "Not angry as in going to kick people, but angry because it's a game I want a lot. It is one of these games that you cannot lose. It's the whole season for us and I don't want a team from Kazakhstan to ruin that for us.
"The first leg was one of those games when I was really angry. Why? Because it was one of those when you believe you are going win. We weren't great but we didn't deserve to lose, and it leaves you angry. If you play against a better team and you don't have the quality, that's one thing. You are going to lose some of those games. But this was not one of those. It was a game we shouldn't have lost."
Samaras was asked if he thought Shakhter would challenge Celtic for the title if they were in the SPFL Premiership. "No. They would not be up there. They're not Rangers, I'll say it like that. They're not Rangers . . ."
Kris Commons did not take part in training yesterday but Lennon said he expected him to be fit. Samaras, James Forrest, Anthony Stokes and Derk Boerrigter are ready but Biram Kayal will be out for a fortnight.
Lennon was unimpressed by Viktor Kumykov, the Shakhter coach, saying his side will score another two goals at Parkhead. Some of their players' comments had caused upset, too. "I don't think they have been very respectful," Lennon said.
Kumykov had also claimed to have noticed Celtic's defence tend to make the same mistake in every game, and concede because of it. "He should tell me what it is; I would cut it out," said Lennon. "I don't know where he is coming from on that one. There is no need for him to talk about my team, I haven't talked about his. Sometimes you can set yourself up for things that come back to bite you."
Samaras used Celtic's experience at the hands of Utrecht in the Europa League qualifiers three years ago as an illustration of how a tie can be reversed over two legs. Celtic won 2-0 at Parkhead but collapsed 4-0 in the Netherlands. "We are a better team [than Shakhter]," Samaras said. "We fully respect them but we know that, at Celtic Park, with our fans behind us, we can do this. I think, if we score an early goal, anything can happen. It is psychology. If we get one goal at half-time, the second half will bring a lot of pressure on them."
If Celtic prevail, they will be in the Champions League group draw, which begins at 4.45pm tomorrow. If they fail, they will be in the Europa League draw at noon on Friday.
"This is a game we really want," Samaras said. "It is a game that is for our club, our team-mates, our careers. To be in the group stages of the Champions League and create those great nights this year: that's what we want. We enjoyed those Champions League nights so much last year and will do everything to get back there."