NEIL Lennon’s transfer kitty may be burning a hole in his pocket as he plots another path to the Champions League group stage for Celtic but one of the manager’s key current players believes his squad are already suitably equipped to get there.
Kris Commons, one of the Scottish champions’ most effective performers in Europe’s elite tournament last season, helped them get off to the perfect start this time around with Wednesday night’s second qualifying round, first-leg 3-0 win against Cliftonville in Belfast.
The comfortable success was achieved without two of last season’s Champions League stand-outs, midfielder Victor Wanyama having moved to Southampton for £12.5 million and striker Gary Hooper set to follow him out of Parkhead in a return to English football for a fee in excess of £5m.
Commons accepts there are far tougher tests ahead for Celtic if they are to enjoy a repeat of last year’s memorable European adventure. But, while he appreciates Lennon’s desire to add new recruits as soon as possible, he feels there are ready-made potential replacements for Wanyama and Hooper already at the club in the shape of Beram Kayal and Anthony Stokes.
“It’s definitely important the gaffer gets financial support to bring in new players,” said Commons. “Other additions to the squad would make us stronger. But you could see on Wednesday that we are more than capable of winning as it is.
“It’s not like we are going to lose Gary and no-one is going to score. Or, with Victor going, we are going to lose that presence in midfield. With Scott Brown and Beram, if they stay fit all season, they are a tremendous partnership in midfield. They are very strong, very dominant. And it is important that Stokesy now tries to take that mantle [from Hooper]. We are going to lose Gary, so let’s see if Anthony can go and score 20 or 25 goals a season and maintain that.
“There was good link-up play from Stokesy on Wednesday night. He is terrific player when he keeps it simple. He has a tendency to sometimes flick a few things and not get hold of things. But, he is a top, top striker and I’d say he is more than capable of scoring 20 or 25 goals a season with his head, his left and his right foot.”
Commons admitted there was a sense of relief in the Celtic dressing-room on Wednesday night after the comprehensive defeat of the Northern Irish champions which makes next Tuesday’s second leg in Glasgow little more than a formality.
“It was a potential banana skin,” added the 29-year-old. winger “I think of it like an FA Cup tie where you go down to a lower-league team, the surface is tricky, the fans are keen as mustard.
“It is one of those where, if you are not 100 per cent on the ball or fully focused, you can slip up. So, for us on Wednesday, it was all about being professional and ruthless in front of goal and getting a good lead.
“It was important we got off to a good start. We scored two goals relatively quickly through Mikael Lustig and Georgios Samaras, and I thought we posed them problems right from the off.
“We hit the woodwork three or four times and we had some really good chances, as well. James could have scored just before he did late on in the second half. So, all in all, it was a good performance and a clean sheet.
“In pre-season games, you try to get up to speed. But, when called upon, most of our big players turned up on Wednesday.
“I think the manager now wants to use the second leg as part of the pre-season preparations. There are still a lot of players coming back from injury. We have still got Joe Ledley to come back into the team, and Brownie is still trying to get back up to speed. So, I think a lot of players will be itching to play.
“We will be able to rotate and try to get the likes of Adam Matthews, Joe and the others who are not quite up to speed, a game. Cliftonville are going to come and try to enjoy the experience and just play as though they have got nothing to lose.
“I don’t think anyone expected them to win the tie, but they are going to come and give it a go. But I think an early goal will kill off the tie.”