CELTIC may be guaranteed European football after Christmas but Neil Lennon knows that, if his side fail to better Benfica’s result in Barcelona when they play Spartak Moscow next month, dropping out of the Champions League into the Europa League will be something they rue for many years to come.
Asked if having continued European football this season already assured meant the pressure was off against Spartak, the Celtic manager replied: “No. It is great to have European football for the new year but we want to progress in the Champions League and we will do everything we can to do that.”
The Northern Irishman will look carefully at his fatigued squad over the next couple of weeks which will also be weakened by the absence of skipper Scott Brown, who is set to undergo surgery on a hip injury which could keep him out for ten weeks.
Lennon revealed that utility player Charlie Mulgrew is struggling due to the sheer amount of football he has played this season, while midfielder Victor Wanyama will miss the Spartak game after he picked up a second-half yellow card in the 2-1 defeat against Benfica.
“I have to look at it carefully,” said Lennon. “We have a few players coming up to speed like Miku and Lassad. We are hoping Emilio Izaguirre [hamstring] will be fit in a week or two and Thomas Rogne [calf] should be fit pretty soon. The squad is stretched but, with these players coming back, it will be bolstered in the coming games.” Celtic resume domestic duties with the visit of Inverness on Saturday. Terry Butcher’s side were hammered 5-1 at home by Motherwell last weekend but defender Kelvin Wilson is anticipating a positive response from Caley. “Inverness are a team that have upset Celtic a few times over the years, and they also had a bad result last weekend as well and will be wanting to change that,” Wilson said. “The main thing is to win the match but, hopefully, we can also put a good performance on in front of our own fans as well.”