CELTIC’S smooth progress in the league to date risks being interrupted by the absence of Mikael Lustig, who manager Neil Lennon yesterday confirmed will be absent for between three and four months after a double hip injury.
The Swede has been a mainstay this season and was one of the players who distinguished themselves in Celtic’s Champions League campaign. Lennon revealed that the right-back has been playing through the pain barrier for several months and with Celtic seven points clear at the top of the Premiership table, and due to play bottom side Hearts this afternoon, the decision was made for Lustig to undergo surgery, in the hope of having him back in time for the end of the season.
“Mika’s had a double hip operation,” explained Lennon. “It needed a bit more work than first expected and he’ll be out for three to four months. The procedure was successful. He’s had both sides done.
“It just shows how good he’s been. There was restriction, he found it difficult to play Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday. So we knew that this day would come.
“But with him being out of the World Cup and hoping to get him back in time before the end of the season, we felt this would be a good time to get the procedure done.
“Originally we thought it would be two to three months. But then after the surgeon’s had a look he felt it necessary to do the other side.
“If you watch him he tends to struggle towards the end of games and usually we’ve taken him off. He’s then found it difficult to recover from midweek to weekend. So this will do him the world of good.
“His performances have been fantastic considering the pain he’s been in,” added Lennon. “He’s been superb, at Champions League level or domestic. He has been a great piece of business.”
Celtic will also be without groin strain victim Charlie Mulgrew against Hearts this afternoon, while Derk Boerrigter also remains sidelined with a hamstring strain. Asked whether his side can hope to come close to emulating the 7-0 win over the same opponents in the Scottish Cup three weeks ago, which the manager described as “near Utopia”, Lennon was understandably cautious.
“You can’t always replicate that sort of form,” he said. “What you can do is try to get near to it, but Hearts will have something to say about that. We have to find a way of breaking them down and I am positive that we will.
“I remember we beat St Mirren 7-0 and then lost to them in the cup the following week so no two games are the same. So we have to try to maintain our level of performances which has been very good domestically.”
Lennon added: “We have had a free week, so the players will be fresher, so I am hoping for a good performance going into the Christmas week.
“A free week has been a luxury for us. We haven’t had that too often this season,” he added. “It gives them time to recover and get some rest and clear their heads and get ready for what’s going to be a pretty hectic Christmas schedule.”