Kilmarnock V Celtic at Rugby Park : Match Preview

18 August 2017
Lee McCulloch: Celtic deserve European windfall

Kilmarnock boss Lee McCulloch does not buy the theory that Celtic's impending Champions League windfall spells trouble for the rest of Scottish football - because they are already miles out in front.

The Hoops thrashed Astana 5-0 on Wednesday night to leave them with one foot in the groups stages and on the brink of cashing in about B#30million that comes with qualification.

Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes has congratulated the Parkhead side for their triumph but admits the UEFA bonanza will only make life harder for their Ladbrokes Premiership rivals.

But McCulloch believes the chasm separating them from the rest is already too big to bridge.

"If Celtic get into the Champions League then it doesn't matter how much money they get, they deserve it," said McCulloch, who welcomes Brendan Rodgers and his team to Rugby Park for Saturday's lunchtime kick-off.

"They have been the best team in the country and have great individual players.

"The gulf is already there in the league with budgets. Take Celtic and Rangers aside and there is still a gulf, a massive gulf, to the rest.

"So if they get another B#30million they have deserved it and if they spend it wisely there is no reason why they can't make a dent in the competition."

Killie have already felt the force of Celtic's capabilities after a young Hoops XI thrashed his side 5-0 in last week's Betfred Cup clash.

McCulloch said: "Celtic are swatting everybody aside right now - good teams, bad teams, indifferent teams, everybody is getting it.

"They had a Champions League qualifier last week against a really good team with some great individual players and they have hit them for five.

"It just shows you where Celtic are as a club, as a team and as a management staff right now. They are flying high.

"Our game at Celtic Park was a sore one but you can argue that the young ones who came in that night are perhaps more hungry that the guys already established in the team.

"Kris Ajer came into play that night. When he was here last season on loan he was our best player. Anthony Ralston played too and I see him being Scotland's next right-back for years to come - that's how good he is.

"So their strength in depth is pretty phenomenal. Yes it will make it difficult if their top-team lads come back in but we'll just need to get on with it."

Rodgers has praised the Green Brigade for their backing in the 5-0 thrashing of Astana.

The Hoops boss had told Ultras-style fans group to leave politics out of football after they were banned by the club from Parkhead for two games following the Champions League qualifying victory over Linfield.

Celtic cited "serious incidents of unsafe behaviour" while the Scottish champions were charged by UEFA on counts of an "illicit banner" and "blocked stairways".

The Green Brigade were back inside a packed Celtic Park for the first leg of the play-off against the Kazakhstan outfit on Wednesday and roared the home side towards what is surely an unassailable advantage.

Rodgers, who is "absolutely delighted" midfielder Stuart Armstrong has signed a two-year contract that ties him to the club until summer 2019, said: "The script couldn't have gone any better for us really in terms of how we performed.

"The one group that has been forgotten about in all this is the supporters because they were absolutely magnificent.

"I sat here four or five weeks ago talking about the Green Brigade and obviously they had been out of the stadium for a little while but they came back in and they along with the other support that was there created this unbelievable atmosphere that really helped and drove the players on.

"That good feeling spread on to the pitch and the players were absolutely outstanding."