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Lincoln City 1 Celtic 4; New signing Daryl Murphy’s luck could be in

DARYL MURPHY would never have been so bold, or naive, as to suggest that a goal at Sincil Bank, the home of League Two side Lincoln City, could propel him into contention for a European debut four days later in Braga.

However, that is precisely the fate that may be bestowed upon Celtic’s £1.5million signing from Sunderland, after he helped Neil Lennon’s side round off their pre-season build-up with a 4-1 win against the team now marshalled by Chris Sutton, himself no stranger to leading the line for the Parkhead club in foreign fields.

Murphy has had to wait two weeks to get his chance not only to show Lennon what he can offer, but to meet his new manager in the flesh, their conversations thus far having been conducted by telephone.

While the rest of the Celtic squad were in America and Canada trying to catch the manager’s eye in games against Phildelphia Union, Manchester United, Seattle Sounders, and finally Sporting Lisbon, Murphy had to cool his heels back at base camp, waiting for the squad’s return to this side of the Atlantic.

When his opportunity did arrive, in a Celtic side containing a smattering of players who could claim to have been involved at first-team level, and augmented by a group of hopefuls who want to follow in their footsteps, it took Murphy virtually no time at all to answer the critics who believe the 27-year-old’s strike-rate does not measure up to what they expect from a Celtic front man.

After a blatant push in the back denied him the chance to make a dream start in the opening seconds, only another 37 minutes had passed when he dispatched a low shot into the net off a post – this time before any Lincoln player could get close to him – after capitalising on an error in the in the box by Josh O’Keefe.

That equaliser not only settled Murphy, but also the Celtic side, who had been trailing to a well-taken goal by Albert Jarrett 15 minutes into the challenge match for the John Reames Memorial Trophy.

Ben Hutchinson reminded Lennon he was still around with a goal either side of the interval, though the first had a huge element of good fortune attached after he made a real hash of his initial attempt, only to find his sclaff had fooled the keeper, Joe Anyon, and his defenders, affording the Celtic striker a second bite.

If Simon Ferry is on his way to Swindon this week along with Paul Caddis in a £350,000 double deal, the fiesty midfielder signed off in style with a clever goal to round off proceedings and delight Lennon, who was impressed by the application and discipline of his young side.

As planned, the manager removed Murphy from the action with just under a third of the game remaining. By then, he had already seen enough to satisfy himself that Murphy can safely be counted among those in contention to meet Braga.

“Murphy needed some game time, but I didn’t want to take any chances with him,” said the manager. “I was really pleased with him. He is a handful and he scored a good goal as well. It augurs well for the start of the season.”

Asked how likely he is to actually start in Portugal, in a team which is expected to utilise only one striker, Lennon replied: “Well, he has not done himself any harm. We will see how he is over the next couple of days.

“He has not had a lot of time with the first team, but he will be on the bench at worst.”

Sutton, though unhappy at the generosity of his defenders in helping Murphy get off the mark, was happy to give the new signing his seal of approval. It is debatable if the Celtic support will ever hold Murphy in the same esteem as they do Sutton, his name being chanted throughout yesterday’s game by around 2000 travelling fans, but the Irishman has got off on the right foot according to his predecessor.

“Murphy has a proven track record, and he took his goal very well,” said Sutton, in typically melancholic tones. “We made a bit of an error, but he still had a fair bit to do. He has been around, and I think he will be a very useful signing. He is not a gamble.

“The goal will give him confidence, and it is nice to get that monkey off your back. He is not a striker who will run away from you, but his hold up play is decent, and it will be interesting to see how he is used. He looks the type who would probably prefer to have someone play off him, which he had today with Hutchinson.”

So, with five preparatory games safely negotiated, Lennon can finally focus fully on Braga, though he admitted the hectic schedule of games and transfer activity has left him next to no time to study this week’s opponents.

“I have seen some match reports, and we have had people watching them this week, so we will have two or three recent reports on them,” he said.

“They are a very technical, attacking team, quick and sharp, particularly at home. We will have to make sure we have something to hold onto for the second leg. I have got a team in mind for Wednesday, but we will not underestimate them. They do score a lot of goals, and not just at home, so we will need to be really cautious about the game and make sure we are set up right.

“It’s a huge game, and it has come very, very quickly for us, but hopefully we will be ready. We want to qualify, The players will not want to be sitting in the house watching the Champions League in September thinking they wish they had been there.”

Celtic striker Ben Hutchinson fires in at the second attempt to net the first of his two goals against Lincoln yesterday. Neil Lennon’s side, which was largely made up of reserve players, won 4-1 after falling behind to an early goal

Photograph: SNS

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