CELTIC manager Neil Lennon is relishing a return to Friday night football and believes the latest instalment involving his club will not be tarnished by events off the pitch.
The Scottish champions will look to take another step towards clinching a third successive title when they face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park this evening.
Celtic’s last outing under the Friday night lights saw them produce one of their best displays of the campaign when they dismantled Motherwell with a scintillating 5-0 victory at Fir Park in December.
But the performance was overshadowed by damage caused to seats in the stand housing Celtic supporters, some of whom also let off flares and smoke bombs. It prompted the club to take action against the controversial Green Brigade section of their support, provisionally suspending 128 fans from matches and relocating 250 of their home season-ticket holders.
Lennon, who last month welcomed the return of the Green Brigade to Celtic Park when they purchased a block of tickets for a different section of the stadium for the league game against St Johnstone, is hopeful nothing will detract from his team’s efforts on the pitch tonight.
“I like Friday night football and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Lennon. “I just think the atmosphere is a bit better at the Friday night games.
“I hope we play as well as we did the last time at Motherwell. I know we had a few problems at the last one, but I’m pretty confident there won’t be a repeat of that.”
Celtic return to action after a free weekend due to their elimination from the Scottish Cup but Lennon is still counting the cost of his players’ involvement in international duty the previous midweek.
Israeli midfielder Nir Biton will be absent for up to four weeks after suffering a groin injury playing for his country but Lennon had slightly better news on James Forrest, who sustained damage in training with Scotland ahead of their game against Poland in Warsaw. The winger has been plagued by a succession of ailments which have punctuated his Celtic career.
“We are hoping James will only be out for a couple of weeks this time,” said Lennon. “It’s a separate injury to a different part of his groin than the one he had last time. He picks up these injuries sporadically. He reported fit to train with Scotland, so it’s just one of those things.
“It’s just his mechanics. You’re hoping that when he fully matures it will stop but at the moment it’s just niggle after niggle. He’s just so bulky around the pelvic area and the thighs that he’s just prone to picking up these strains.
“He had a long-term problem with sciatica and so he’s doing a lot of work in between games to keep that at bay. But he’s getting different injuries as well. We seem to have got to the bottom of the sciatica problem but he’s always been prone to picking up little hamstring and groin strains. We just hope that isn’t going to be the case throughout his career.
“A fit and free James Forrest is a huge asset for anyone. We hope he will grow out of it. Early in his career Ryan Giggs had a few problems because he was so quick and finely tuned. James has played a lot of football early in his career as well.
“Players tend to manage things better as their bodies mature and their careers go on. We even looked at the car he was driving at one point to see if that was a factor, plus the fact he was living in Prestwick with an hour-and-20-minute drive to training and back every day. But now he lives closer to the training ground. We’re looking at all avenues to see if we can prolong him for an injury-free period.
“He’s a sensational player, we’ve just not seen enough of him on the pitch. That’s not his fault. This is another blow to him but thankfully it’s not serious.
“He handles it very well as he’s had so many setbacks over the last few years. We’ve missed him in some big games. We’ll do everything we can to look after him as he’s a precocious talent.”