Celtic manager Neil Lennon has expressed his opinion that the club have a “good case” as they attempt to have Scott Brown’s Champions League ban reduced from three games to at least two.
Brown’s was red carded against Barcelona just over three weeks ago for aiming a kick at Brazilian winger Neymar. Brown was initially handed an automatic one-match ban but Uefa’s control and disciplinary committee extended it to three, citing violent conduct.
However, Lennon yesterday described the written explanation from Uefa outlining why their reasons as “vague”.
Lennon mounted a strong defence of his player at the time, even though many observers felt referee Stephane Lannoy’s red card had been warranted. Brown himself accepted responsibility for his actions and issued a statement on the club’s website the following day in which he admitted he “shouldn’t have acted in this way”.
However, Celtic are perturbed by what they described as the “excessive” length of ban the player has now been issued with and are seeking to have the suspension reduced. Celtic have already indicated their intention to appeal and must now submit their written documentation to Uefa within five days.
Asked if he had studied the written reasons for the ban, Lennon replied: “Yes, it is quite vague”. He went on: “I am not convinced by the wording of it. I think we have a good case to appeal it.”
Celtic want to be able to call on Brown for the home clash with AC Milan on 26 November, a game that could be of vital significance to the side’s hopes of progressing to the Champions League knockout stage.
Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over Ajax resuscitated their hopes of progressing and Celtic now face a return match against the same opponents in Amsterdam on 6 November.
Brown is currently due to sit out that game. While Celtic accept that will likely still be the case even if they win the appeal, having the skipper available for the match against the Italians later the same month would be a huge boost.
If Celtic fail in their appeal it won’t be the crushing blow it might otherwise have seemed, with Israeli Beram Kayal having re-emerged as the combative midfielder who quickly endeared himself to the supporters when he arrived at the club three years ago.
Kayal was handed a significant vote of confidence by Lennon when asked to step into Brown’s boots on Tuesday and capped an impressive performance with his side’s second goalin the 2-1 win against the Dutch champions. “If Broony’s suspension holds up then I am going to need him,” said Lennon of Kayal.
Referring to the midfielder as a “tiger”, Lennon conceded the player’s performances have fallen short in recent months as he sought to return to the levels reached prior to a serious ankle injury sustained during an Old Firm match in December 2011.
Lennon felt that Kayal appeared to be operating on “instinct” again. “He looked to have that natural feeling when you get when you are out there and I thought he had a brilliant game,” said the manager. “I was delighted with him.”
The Israel international has made only seven starts this season after injuring a groin shortly after the campaign began. Although he was replaced after 67 minutes in Saturday’s clash against Hibs, Lennon retained faith with the player on Tuesday. The player repaid his manager with a powerful display, “glimpses” of which Lennon said he had seen this season. One last-ditch tackle, which Kayal made on Viktor Fischer in the first half, was described by Lennon as being “as good as a goal”.
“I wasn’t sure he was going to make it there – the Kayal of three or four months ago would have done, but he has got that extra pace back,” said Lennon. “That was a turning point, that was important. As good as a goal, I felt. He got a bit of luck with his goal but he deserved it.”
The manager added that it was Kayal’s “time” and he has to make the most of the opportunity. “Last season, with [Victor] Wanyama playing so well, and [Joe] Ledley and [Charlie] Mulgrew, competition was pretty fierce,” he said. “Now it’s his time and he has maximised the opportunity.”
Lennon denied that he was ever worried that Celtic had already seen the best of Kayal. “I don’t think you ever lose it,” he said. “Physically you can lose it because injuries take their toll. And maybe that has been a little bit of the case for him.
“But, in pre-season, he started to look like himself then he had a hip injury and a groin injury, which kept him out for a month. The start of his season has been a little disjoined. I felt on Saturday he was starting to look a lot better and that goal [against Ajax] will have given him a massive shot in the arm.
“He is a quiet boy off the field,” Lennon added. “On the field, when he is at his best, he is a tiger. I thought his passing, his football, was good – and his discipline too.”
Kayal’s return to form is also timely considering that Celtic’s options have been further reduced after his compatriot Nir Biton’s red card for a wild lunge on Tuesday night. The midfielder is automatically suspended for next month’s return match with Ajax and could have his ban further extended when Uefa’s control and disciplinary committee sit on 30 October.
“Now Biton looks like he is going to be out for, I don’t know how many games,” said Lennon. “So we need to keep Beram fit.”
Lennon explained again how he prefers to have one right-footed player and one left-footed player in the middle of midfield rather than two ‘lefties’. “When you put Joe and Charlie in there it’s a little bit lop-sided,” he said. “I keep on going on about these two lefties in midfield but it is just an imbalance in there that you can get away with with two righties.”
After again proving they can beat one of Europe’s top teams at home, the manager has now challenged Celtic to excel away from home as well. Celtic’s away record in the Champions League has improved but they know that they must take something from the trip to Amsterdam if they wish to progress as group runners-up.
“Now it is really important, if we want to make the top two places, that we pick up something away,” he said.
“In the Nou Camp [v Barcelona on 11 December] that is going to be really difficult but we are really going to look at Amsterdam and think: ‘Can we get something here?’
“I saw enough in the game to suggest that we can. But I also saw enough in the game to suggest that it is going to be really difficult, because they are a very good side.”