WITHIN hours of Scott Brown receiving an enhanced suspension of three Champions League matches for the kick he aimed at Barcelona’s Neymar last month, the club promised to launch an appeal in the hope that their captain can rejoin the campaign while advancement is still a possibility.
Brown was initially served with a standard one-match ban for his act of folly, which earned a red card from referee Stephane Lannoy and left his team more vulnerable to the advances of the Catalan giants, who won 1-0.
That meant Celtic would contemplate the upcoming Group H double-header against Ajax with no points, and now they must consider how to handle the Dutch Eredivisie champions without their captain, who is by general consensus in the form of his career this season.
Celtic’s legal team can expect to have their work cut out in making a mitigatory case for the petulant kick that Brown inflicted on the grounded Neymar, albeit with little prospect of harming the Brazilian, despite manager Neil Lennon’s post-match insistence that the red card was “soft”.
Their pronouncement yesterday that the new three-match suspension was “excessive” suggested that they will only plead to Uefa’s appeals body for a reduction of the sanction to two matches, and not for the accused to be absolved of all guilt.
Even if that best-case scenario materialises – it would permit a return for Brown against AC Milan on 26 November – Lennon’s side would have to have taken more points from Ajax than Milan did against Barcelona if they were to retain any real hope of qualifying ahead of the Italians for the last 16, with their quest culminating in the Nou Camp on 11 December. Celtic currently trail Ajax (one point), Milan (four) and Barcelona (six) in the standings.
After acknowledging the punishment set down by Uefa’s control and disciplinary committee, the Scottish Premiership leaders responded through their website yesterday with a statement that read: “The club finds this to be excessive and will be appealing against the decision.”
Yesterday’s missive from Nyon rubbed salt in a wound that was opened when Brown was ordered off at a crucial juncture of Celtic’s home tie with Barcelona, with the game scoreless.
Cesc Fabregas’s winning goal made the Scotland captain feel even worse for letting his team-mates down, as he would ruefully reflect some time later.
Brown publicly took responsibility for his actions a fortnight ago, saying: “It’s something that happened in the heat of the moment, but I shouldn’t have acted in this way. I need to live with that and there is no-one more disappointed than me.”
His autumn looked to be on the up after he played a key role in Scotland’s 2-0 victory over Croatia on Tuesday night, after which he happily described the improvement in the national team’s form as “ridiculous”. But then came yesterday’s Uefa missive from Switzerland.
While he awaits the outcome of Celtic’s appeal, Brown will at least have domestic distractions to keep himself busy – Celtic travel to his former club Hibs tomorrow. But whether Lennon’s side can make an impression against Ajax and, most likely, Milan without their dynamic central midfielder will be another demanding challenge for the manager.
Lennon admitted yesterday that Mikael Lustig’s hip injury had left him with a “huge” headache ahead of Tuesday’s visit of Ajax to Glasgow. The right-back was ruled out of Sweden’s World Cup qualifier against Germany on Tuesday after coming off in the previous match four days earlier against Austria with the injury which leaves him “a serious doubt” for the trip to Easter Road.
Adam Matthews is out for three months with a shoulder injury and Lennon said: “We have two very good right-backs who may not be fit (for Ajax). Mikael’s hip locked against Austria. He is a doubt for the weekend but we’re very hopeful he’ll be fit for Ajax on Tuesday.
“But we have to nurse Mikael, he does have hip and groin problems and we do have to manage him during the week.
“But he is a serious doubt for the weekend so we will have to rethink things regarding Hibs. Efe Ambrose had played international football at right-back so he is a possibility, we have Darnell Fisher or I might change the formation.”
Dutch winger Derk Boerrigter is still struggling with an ankle injury and is unlikely to be back for next week’s meeting with his former club. But midfielders Joe Ledley and Tom Rogic are back from their groin injuries and James Forrest is expected to be fit again.