WITH Efe Ambrose having once again been shown to be unreliable in important games, Dedryck Boyata sidelined through injury, Charlie Mulgrew out of contract and Jozo Simunovic a long-term absentee, Celtic have serious defensive concerns entering their Champions League qualifier with Astana next week.

Brendan Rodgers – who had been linked with Blackburn Rovers and Republic of Ireland Shane Duffy centre half as well as Heerenveen player Jerry St. Juste – failed to strengthen his squad before the European signing deadline on Thursday night and is painfully short of options at the back as a consequence.

He could still take advantage of the UEFA wild card – a mechanism which allows clubs to add one name to their squad 48 hours before the first leg of the third qualifying round. But would he be comfortable, or wise, to throw a new arrival straight in to such a difficult fixture?

Rodgers played a three man backline in the second leg of the second qualifying round against Lincoln Red Imps at Celtic Park on Wednesday evening, with Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig playing on either side of Erik Sviatchenko, and his team kept a clean sheet in a 3-0 victory.

Yet, that game was at home against semi-professional opponents from Gibraltar. Getting a result in the match over in Kazakhstan next week will be a far more demanding proposition. They will be playing away, on an artificial surface, in stifling heat, in front of a hostile crowd and against decent rivals who have gained a wealth of European experience in recent seasons.

It is, no doubt about it, a serious dilemma for the new manager. However, Callum McGregor, the midfielder who should be involved after being brought in and performing well against Red Imps in midweek, believes he has a possible solution. Go on the offensive.

Celtic are certainly well off for players who can be fielded in more advanced positions with Stuart Armstrong, Ryan Christie, Nadir Ciftci, Moussa Dembele, James Forrest, Leigh Griffiths, McGregor, Patrick Roberts and Tom Rogic all vying for selection.

“We’ve got loads of attacking options and you saw on Wednesday it was a really attacking team,” said McGregor. “We know we’ve got that in the locker.

“That system is more suited to going forward. I know a lot of the time in Europe, in these tough games you might not be able to be as attacking as that. But we know we’ve got that option, we can put a lot of attacking players on the park and go and put a performance on.”

McGregor featured for Celtic in European matches – both in the Champions League qualifying and in the Europa League group stages – regularly under former manager Ronny Deila in the last two seasons and has netted goals against KR Reykjavik, Legia Warsaw, NK Maribor and Ajax.

The 23-year-old believes Celtic are, despite it being little over a month since they started pre-season training with their new manager, capable of getting a result against Astana in Kazakhstan which helps them to progress to the play-off round.

“I think we are ready for it,” he said. “We have been working hard in training. We are still only four and a half weeks into pre-season training, but we are getting fitter every day.

“We are training hard and the manager is trying to get his style of play over to the players. In the last couple of games you can start to see what he has been giving us tactically and technically. It is starting to come together. Hopefully on Wednesday night we will be ready.”

McGregor continued: “The manager has been excellent. He spoke to the players after the first game against the Red Imps and made sure we were all sticking together. He stressed that we are in it together and everyone has to have each other’s backs.

“He was being really positive and you saw with the result on Wednesday night that we turned it around. It wasn’t panic stations. Everything was calm and collected. We knew we could turn it around at home and we did it.

“The last time we were in the Champions League I was away on loan. It’s definitely something I want to achieve and hopefully we can do it this time round. I missed it a couple of years ago, so I want to get in it this time.”

McGregor travelled with the Celtic squad to Azerbaijan for the game against Qarabag in the second leg of the season qualifying round of the Champions League last season – a fixture which demanded the same length of journey and was played in the same energy-sapping conditions.

The Glasgow club, leading 1-0 from the first leg, recorded a gritty 0-0 draw to book a place against Malmo in the play-off. The Scot feels that excursion will be invaluable next week.

“I was in the stand for the Qarabag game over there,” he said. “It was difficult. We know it’s not going to be easy. We know this will be the same. We’ll just need to be ready for it, prepare properly and go and get a good result.

“We’ve got Leicester this weekend first and we know that will be another test for us but we’ll be a bit fitter and stronger and hopefully we can take that into the game on Wednesday.”