Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes Friday night football could help his side’s Champions League campaign, but stopped short of calling for its introduction in case the concession was viewed as unfair.
Lennon felt fatigue played a factor in his team’s 2-1 defeat by Benfica in Lisbon on Tuesday night, when Ezequiel Garay scored a 71st-minute winner.
Celtic had played in Aberdeen on Saturday while their Portuguese opponents had played on Friday night. Lennon pointed to research by the former Wales assistant manager, Raymond Verheijen, as evidence that an extra day’s rest can make a big difference.
“There was a report brought out last year by Raymond Verheijen and his point was that when you play Champions League football and only have two days recovery in between a game, you are 40 per cent more likely to lose a goal in the last 20 minutes,” said Lennon, whose team will qualify for the knockout stages if they better Benfica’s result against Barcelona when they take on Spartak Moscow on 5 December.
“That’s not an excuse, that’s just the way the fixtures worked out. Overall, I was disappointed with the way we played anyway, but it has been a heavy schedule for us. We have a cup game (against Arbroath) before the Moscow game, so we will look at utilising the squad if we can and rest as many players before the game.”
Several Clydesdale Bank Premier League games have been moved to Friday nights in the last 18 months, and not just for television.
Lennon said: “I think Friday night football is a good idea. I think our players will like it because they get a free weekend – unless they get beat. I’m not averse to that, I used to do it quite a lot in my Crewe days. I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all and for European games it might be beneficial to us in the long run.”
However, Lennon did not want to look like he was seeking special treatment.
“That might cause an outcry amongst other clubs and people saying ‘Why wasn’t it done before to help other clubs?”’ he added. “I don’t think you can implement it now. I think if you have two or three teams in the Champions League from this country then maybe you can look at a change to help the clubs. But there are countries who do seem to give their clubs a little bit more access to suit their fixtures than we do here.”
The flip side is that Celtic get one more day’s rest before facing Inverness at Parkhead today.
Lennon said: “Our best performances in the league have come away from home and I want to remedy that. Maybe if you come from a packed house against Barcelona to a 45-50,000 crowd there is a little change in the atmosphere. That’s absolutely natural, the intensity is not there all around the stadium. But the players are well aware of what I’m demanding and for the next few games. We know what we have to do against Moscow but in the meantime we have to get a run of wins.”
Celtic captain Scott Brown is in contention to face Inverness – but is still likely to face surgery after the visit of Spartak Moscow.
Lennon stated on Tuesday that Brown looked like needing an operation on his ongoing hip problem after failing to last 90 minutes in Lisbon.
But the Celtic manager later discovered the midfielder had gone off with cramp in his legs. Lennon will now look to keep his skipper going until the Spartak Moscow clash, before referring him to a consultant. Lennon said: “Scott Brown is in contention to play remarkably. We will refer him after Moscow and see how he is. The problem is we don’t have the time to let him settle down. Looking at the condition, it normally requires surgery. The problem on Tuesday night was he was just out of condition a bit because he has not been training.
“He has trained in the last couple of days and we are doing some physical work and see what reaction we get.”
Inverness manager Terry Butcher has urged his players to play with freedom at Celtic Park and revel on the big stage again.
“It’s a great place to play football and pit your wits against a very, very good side,” he said. “We have had experience of going to Hibs, Hearts and Rangers, when we won in the League Cup. We played in front of 28-29,000 at Rangers and it was a good atmosphere so hopefully that will stand them in good stead on Saturday afternoon.
“We aim to continue our run of scoring in every match. Parkhead is certainly a big test for us to see if we can continue that, but it’s a great challenge.”