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Talking over, time to take our chance, says Stokes

ANTHONY STOKES is in the business of making the most of chances when they come his way.

Anthony Stokes trains with Celtic ahead of tonight's first leg against Maribor. Picture: SNS
Anthony Stokes trains with Celtic ahead of tonight's first leg against Maribor. Picture: SNS

Which is precisely what the Celtic striker believes Ronny Deila's side must do tonight in Maribor, having been thrown a Champions League lifeline.

The Republic of Ireland striker readily admits they were well beaten by Legia Warsaw, and only the fact the Polish champions broke the rules over eligibility allowed the smelling salts to be applied to Celtic's challenge for a place in the Champions League group stage.

Now they have to show they have the backbone to pick themselves up, dust themselves down, and come out swinging against NK Maribor.

It has been a testing time since losing 6-1 on aggregate to Legia, and having to follow the case as it went through UEFA then CAS.

"Once UEFA dismissed the Legia appeal, we were safe and we have a second chance," said Stokes.

"We have to grasp it with both hands, which we failed to do in the previous two games [against Legia]."

Stokes refutes any suggestion that, with European football now guaranteed until December - defeat to Maribor would mean Celtic parachute into the group stages of the Europa League - the pressure is off.

"The pressure is always there, no matter how we end up playing in this tie," he said. "We have ridden our luck, obviously, getting the second chance.

"But, if anything, it will be even harder to take if we don't grasp the opportunity after everything that's happened. We need to get through to the group stages."

Achieving that goal would not erase the bitter memories of their poor performances against Legia. It would, however, bring £15m into the club's coffers, and a brighter perspective to the entire season. "We were obviously very low going out after those two performances," said Stokes reflecting on the no-shows in Warsaw and at Murrayfield. But we weren't jumping around, either, when we heard the news from UEFA.

"It was harsh on Legia, there's no argument about that. They were the better team over the two legs, but the rules are there for a reason, and what happened next was nothing to do with us.

"I know, or at least I'm pretty sure, that it wasn't a case of us handing in a protest form to get them in trouble. I think UEFA picked up on it and dealt with it themselves, and that took it out of our hands.

"Anyone with any idea about football and how things work knows we did nothing wrong.

"Legia made the mistake, and they have to live with it. I feel for any footballer who loses in that way. They are a decent side, and I wish them all the best in the Europa League, I really do.

"Everyone at the club felt, in some way, sorry for Legia. But all that matters now is we make amends for how we played before and give the fans a result and performance they deserve.

Stokes did manage to see some humour in this serious situation, joking: "We didn't get a win bonus for that 3-0 result, by the way - but I'd have taken a hat trick.

"But it's done and dusted now. It's time to forget it and move on. We have to prove that we're worthy of this level."

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