CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has praised his Partick Thistle counterpart Alan Archibald for building on the work his former team-mate Jackie McNamara started in the Maryhill club’s revival.
For the first time in nine years, Celtic will travel across Glasgow to face Thistle at Firhill on top-flight business tomorrow.
Lennon, who played in Celtic’s 4-1 win on their last visit back in February 2004 as the Jags headed towards their lengthy spell in the lower divisions, has been impressed by the efforts of Archibald’s men so far this season.
“Thistle have been excellent,” said Lennon. “In the last two games I’ve watched them they’ve played really good football. They were unlucky not to get something from Hibs in their last home game, but then got a great win up in Inverness last week. They’ve taken to the Premiership very well.
“I think Alan has done a really good job. He was under immense pressure because Jackie had put down a real foundation there. But Alan has carried it on very well. They have some good footballers and they play well. I’ve been very impressed.”
Lennon will be forced into changes tomorrow with James Forrest and Charlie Mulgrew, both stand-outs in Tuesday’s Champions League win over Ajax, set to miss out because of injury. It is yet another setback for winger Forrest, bedevilled by sciatic problems and then his recent illness, but Lennon is content it is only a minor issue this time.
“He took a whack in the ankle against Ajax and has injured ligaments,” said Lennon. “Adrenaline got him through the whole game on the night but it seized up afterwards and he is a major doubt for Sunday.
“It’s a blow, but nothing major. It’s not a normal James Forrest-type injury – we actually know what it is this time and we can deal with it. Charlie has a bit of inflammation in the heel and is also a doubt.
“Kris Commons is obviously still out. With the game against Ajax in Amsterdam looming, we have a free midweek next week and I can look to give some of the boys a rest. But I’ll still go with a strong team on Sunday, with the players I have available, because it’s a game I want to win to keep our unbeaten league run going.”
Captain Scott Brown is available again after sitting out the Ajax victory through suspension, while his deputy on that occasion, Beram Kayal, is fully fit after being substituted with 20 minutes remaining.
Lennon is convinced the Israeli defender has now turned a corner in his bid to regain full form and fitness after his injury troubles. “Beram can smell it again,” said Lennon. “Once he made that run back and tackle on Victor Fischer on Tuesday night, all his old senses came back. He was feeling what he could feel a year or two ago.
“That’ll have done him the world of good. I felt two weeks ago he wouldn’t have made that challenge. But his pace to get there and his timing of the tackle, for me, was as good as a goal. Fischer was in but Beram made up countless yards to get back.
“You could see (in the) second half he looked his old self. He had a turn and run which was the old Beram, a change of pace that’s been missing. Psychologically he’s in a better place now.”
Thistle are still looking for their first home league win of the season but Archibald insists his side will not be “over-physical” in trying to get it.
Lennon complained about some of Hibernian’s tackling in last week’s 1-1 draw at Easter Road but the Jags boss allayed any possible fears of a repeat this weekend. He said: “I didn’t see it live so it is hard for me to comment on how physical they were but I think any team playing against the better team – and I think Neil will have done it against the likes of Barcelona – you have to try to press them as much as you can to stop giving good players time.
“In regards of how physical you can be, it is not really in our game to be over-physical so I don’t think it will be a problem this week. We know it will be a lot more difficult, a massive challenge against a very good team.
“They have that confidence and a lot better players in every position. Their creativity is very good, in the final third especially, and they are all comfortable with the ball.
“It is something we are well aware of and we need to stop them playing. If we get anything from the game it would be brilliant, and positive to take into the next game against Aberdeen.”