Celtic manager won’t relax until his players return from Scotland duty

Celtic manager Neil Lennon applauds the fans as he returns to Celtic Park. Picture: SNS
Celtic manager Neil Lennon applauds the fans as he returns to Celtic Park. Picture: SNS
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Celtic manager Neil Lennon admits that he will be as nervous as any Tartan Army foot soldier as he watches Scotland’s Euro 2020 qualifying matches in Kazakhstan and San Marino later this month.

The reasons for his trepidation are fairly obvious; goalkeeper Scott Bain, left-back Kieran Tierney, midfielder Callum McGregor and winger James Forrest could all have key roles to play for Alex McLeish.

Celtic’s next Premiership fixture upon their return is the meeting with Rangers at Parkhead on 31 March. Victory for the hosts would effectively clinch an eighth successive title while a win for Steven Gerrard’s side would provide the challengers with hope that they could yet overhaul their rivals.

Consequently, the last thing Lennon needs – especially when he will face either Aberdeen or Rangers in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup two weeks later – is to lose more key men to injury.

“That core of Celtic players has been excellent for Scotland and they had a role in the recent good results which have seen a huge improvement and set Alex up nicely for the qualifying games to come,” he said. “Hopefully, they can keep that momentum going. Of course, I’ll be watching those games through my fingers, though, because we have Rangers up next when they come back.

“The timing of that isn’t ideal but every manager is in the same boat. When I was at Hibs, Martin Boyle went away for the Asian Games and got injured in a friendly beforehand, which put him out for the rest of the season. It’s just part of playing for both club and country. ”

Tierney, who made his 165th appearance for the club against Aberdeen yesterday, has only just returned to the first team after missing over two months with a hip problem and Lennon is delighted that the 21-year-old’s re-emergence coincided with his appointment.

“He’s a brilliant player and a very important one for us,” said Lennon, pictured. “You certainly feel his absence when he’s not there; when he plays he makes us better.

“It’s a huge boost for us to have him back. We’ll manage his situation accordingly, though, and the medical team and the sports scientists will tell us to take him out if we need to. He’s a physical kind of player; he doesn’t shirk tackles and, going forward, he’s a Rolls Royce.”

Lennon also paid tribute to winger James Forrest, claiming he’s one of the most under-rated players at the club.

“James is a terrific player,” he insisted. “He’s been here – what? Nine years? – and he’s a modern-day great for me. James is coming into his peak years now so we’re in for a good time with him for club and country.”