NEIL Lennon is ready to hand Derk Boerrigter a surprise first Champions League starting appearance for Celtic as he looks to maximise his attacking options for tonight’s pivotal showdown with AC Milan in Glasgow.
Celtic must defeat the Italian side on matchday five to retain any hope of qualification from Group H and a place in the last 16 of the Champions League for the second successive season.
Lennon will adopt a positive approach to the situation, revealing Dutch winger Boerrigter may join Kris Commons and James Forrest in advanced midfield roles, while Georgios Samaras is in line to fill the central striking position.
Since his £3 million summer move from Ajax, Boerrigter has struggled to make an impact for the Scottish champions through a combination of injuries and unconvincing form. The 27-year-old has not started a match for Celtic since their shock League Cup defeat at home to Morton two months ago, but he finally netted his first goal for the club after coming on in Saturday’s 3-1 Premiership win over Aberdeen.
Celtic manager Lennon believes Boerrigter can thrive in the Champions League environment and can pose genuine danger to the Milan defence tonight.
“I’m going to try and go with a bit of pace if I can,” said Lennon. “Boerrigter is fit, so he will have a good chance of starting. Hopefully he will give us a different dimension going forward.
“Some of the players who come in can find it hard to adapt to British football straight away. I think European football suits Derk better. It’s a little bit more technical and a little bit more tactical. He is used to that type of football, playing on the continent.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but some players seem more comfortable in that environment than in the SPFL.
“Milan might not know much about Derk, although they may know of him from his Ajax days. But if he can be on song, he can be a threat for us. There’s no question about that.
“The goal on Saturday will have done his confidence the world of good. It’s been frustrating for him because he hasn’t had any concerted game time at all. We are hoping he now stays injury-free for a while and can get a run of games.”
Scoring goals has been Celtic’s biggest problem in the Champions League group stage so far this season, drawing a blank in three of their previous four games. Anthony Stokes has occupied the central striking role in all of them but may lose out to Samaras this evening.
“I am toying with playing Samaras through the middle,” added Lennon. “I haven’t decided yet. We will make our final conclusions on the team later. Stokes trained today, so he’s back in the squad.
“Attacking wise, we’ll go out strong. Forrest trained today and is okay, Boerrigter looks pretty fit now, so we’ve got a good edge going forward. We’ll need that. I want us to play with a bit of zest.
“The fact that it’s win or bust for us, in terms of staying in the Champions League, may give the players that little bit of extra ‘oomph’ going into the game.”
Lennon is also pinning his hopes on Commons finding his top form for Celtic tonight, insisting the player has not been adversely attracted by a weekend break-in at his family home where thieves stole two luxury cars. “What happened can be traumatic for anyone,” said Lennon. “But with Kris being the strong-minded individual that he is, he’s brushed it all off. It’s not a nice thing for him or his family to have to suffer. But looking at him today after speaking to him on Sunday, his focus now is on the game.
“He is a very important player for us. He has a good temperament and I think he enjoys these nights.
“Kris has waited a long time to be in this position. He is one of the older members of the team. He’s done his bit in the lower leagues in England.
“He’s had a superb couple of seasons for us now. He’s really matured into a player we feel is vital to the way we want to play. I’m hoping he can find one of those performances for us on Tuesday night.”
Lennon appeared relaxed throughout his pre-match media duties yesterday and insists he is not experiencing any strain ahead of such a significant fixture.
“I don’t feel under any pressure at all and I’ll try and transmit that to the players as well,” he said.
“I don’t want any nerves or anxiety, even though it’s maybe a natural state to be in. You get a tension before games like this, but it’s a nice tension, not an anxious one.
“I feel we have nothing to lose and everything to gain which is a great position to be in.
“Our cause for optimism comes from the fact that at home we’re very good. We played very well against Barcelona and beat Ajax here. That gives me a lot of encouragement.”