Brown rested with hope of being ready for Scotland
Neil Lennon will manage Scott Brown’s ongoing hip injury with a view to helping the Celtic skipper be ready for Scotland’s crunch 2014 World Cup qualifiers next month.
Craig Levein was unable to use the 27-year-old midfielder for the Scots’ opening two home qualifiers against Serbia and Macedonia, but the former Hibernian player has appeared in Celtic’s last three matches.
Lennon will leave Brown out of tonight’s Scottish Communities League Cup third-round clash with Irn-Bru First Division side Raith Rovers at Parkhead to give him a rest and increase the chances of his availability for the club’s upcoming Champions League games.
However, Lennon is also keen to see his on-form captain return to Levein’s squad for Scotland’s away double-header in Wales and Belgium next month.
“We feel it is an opportunity to give him a free week,” said Lennon. “We should have enough cover. There are a lot of games coming up and he needs rest after three games in a week.
“We will try to base his programme around playing for us, obviously and making sure he is fit for Scotland as well.
“We don’t discourage players playing for their country.
“Obviously Celtic come first in my priorities, but I know Scotland have two big games coming up next month and Scott will want to play in both of them. I just hope we can manage him to be able to play in them.”
Even Brown’s biggest critics have been impressed by his recent performances, particularly in the goalless Champions League Group G draw against Benfica at Parkhead last week.
Lennon has been Brown’s staunchest supporter since becoming manager and believes the player is approaching his peak. “He is a fantastic athlete, one of the best I have seen,” said the former Celtic skipper.
“Since I took over he has been a model of consistency. His attitude has been magnificent and his form at the minute comes as no surprise to me.
“He has shown maturity and quality and he has been a real driving force. He has set himself a very high standard. But I think there is more to come. He is only 27 and coming into his peak, which is great news for us and Scotland as well.”
Despite giving Brown the night off for the visit of Raith, Lennon was keen to stress how serious he was taking the threat of the Kirkcaldy men and insisted he will field a strong team. Beram Kayal and Joe Ledley are back in the squad following injury, but strikers Lassad (groin) and Miku (calf) and defender Mikael Lustig (hamstring) are out.
Celtic have lost in the last two finals of the competition against Rangers and Kilmarnock and the former Northern Ireland international is looking to make it third time lucky.
“All these early games are loaded with potential upsets and I don’t want to be one of them,” he said. “It is a game we are not taking lightly and I can’t imagine I will be making too many changes if I can avoid it.
“I will put a strong team out. I would like to get to the final of the competition again and go one better. We’ve done very well to get to the finals, we played well in both but it wasn’t our day [in both of them].
“I had Raith watched at the weekend. They are a decent First Division side but with [manager] John McGlynn going [in the summer] it is a wee bit of a transitional period for them. But they are decent opposition for us. It took us a while to break Dundee down [at the weekend] and what we have to be mindful of is not to get sloppy and complacent.”
The Kirkcaldy side head west after a 1-0 defeat at Morton at the weekend, although player/manager Grant Murray found positives in his side’s display, saying: “We may have be beaten but it was a very positive performance. We created chances but never took them, but hopefully if we get any against Celtic we will.”
Striker Pat Clarke is the only doubt for Raith as he is struggling with a calf injury.
Murray added: “We will play on a great surface in a great stadium, but we are not just going there to make up the numbers. This is a big game for us and one that we want to win and be through to the next round. I know, however, that Celtic will want that as well.”
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Wednesday 22 May 2013
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