Manager set to take a chance on Scott Brown

CELTIC manager Neil Lennon’s admission that victory over Atletico Madrid on Wednesday is essential if his side are to have any chance of progressing from Europa League Group I means he is willing to take calculated risks.

Pitching captain Scott Brown into a first game for ten weeks could be the biggest.

Brown has not featured since being forced off in the derby defeat at Ibrox on 18 September. He only recently resumed training following ankle surgery yet Lennon says the midfielder’s natural fitness allows him to believe Brown could play.

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“It is a big boost to us,” the Celtic manager said. “We have to be careful, but he says he feels great and that the ankle feels as good as it’s ever done.”

Atletico have seven points, the same as Udinese and two more than Celtic, but their away form is poor. Ahead of their city derby last night, they had played seven away matches in La Liga and Europe, losing five and drawing two. But for an 86th-minute equaliser away to Rennes they would endured two reverses in the Europa League.

As a club, Celtic received a huge shot in the arm from their 3-1 win at home over Rennes, following a creditable draw in Brittany, says Lennon. And, central to a more considered and constructive European approach has been the manager’s selection of Victor Wanyama in a holding midfield slot. Lennon played that role himself and has given a few tips to Wanyama, whom he considers a “natural” for the position.

Lennon hopes the easing of his defensive injury worries will allow the Kenyan to move out from the centre-back berth he has covered of late.

“The players have put themselves where we can qualify,” Lennon said. “We’re at home and our form has been decent [with two draws and a win]. We’ll be going out to be as positive as we can. We’ll have to be careful of their counters because they can attack from a variety of areas.

“When I played, European games were always a marker of where you are as a team and where you were as an individual. You’re playing against better quality opposition. This has been a really tough group. Rennes are up there in France and Udinese have been top of Serie A in Italy. Atletico Madrid have spent a lot of money. But I think our Rennes win could be a turning point. We’d gone a goal behind and you’re thinking ‘have they got it to get themselves back in the game?’ and they did.”