The trip to Livingston tomorrow for his Celtic side is one that Neil Lennon admits he is “concerned about”. That fact, though, has nothing to do with the perceived aggressive nature of Gary Holt’s men and everything to do with his players’ exertions in their sparkling Europa League victory over Cluj on Thursday.
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard intimated that the West Lothian team play too close to the edge after his midfielder Joe Aribo required 20 stitches in his head after taking an elbow from Ricky Lamie during the clubs’ recent Betfred Cup quarter-final.
Lennon, though, does not concur. “I’ve never had an issue with them,” said the Celtic manager. “I know maybe Steven did with the Aribo incident but a lot of teams in Scotland are physical. I don’t think Livingston fall into the category of being over-physical.”
Lennon doesn’t give too much thought to the wider stakes at play in the club’s final game before the two-week international break. Should Celtic fail to win in the lunchtime kick-off, Rangers would have a chance to go top of the Premiership when they host Hamilton later in the day.
“I understand that but it’s still early in the season,” the Celtic manager said. “Obviously we want to go there and win. We only went there once last season and it was 0-0 so you can see how difficult the place can be. They defend well, they’ve got good energy. At set-plays they are dangerous. I would expect us to have the majority of the ball but it’s difficult on the surface to play free-flowing football at times. They had a great season last season, and they’ve had three or four great seasons really. They are a solid, difficult to beat team. So there is concern for me, obviously off the back of last night as well.”
Lennon must decide whether to continue with players in such a good rhythm or freshen up because of the danger of drop-off going straight from a high-intensity occasion into a low-key fixture.
“We gave the players a day off on Friday. I feel that’s the right thing to do,” he said. “There was no point bringing them in for a recovery session, they are better switching off at home. We will assess them on Saturday and see how they are. It might be horses for courses on Sunday. Some players might be more comfortable than others on plastic.” Lennon will not have Leigh Griffiths in his squad again but said he would not countenance allowing him to go on loan despite his lack of game time following fitness issues and, in the past week, a virus.
“He’s too good a player,”said Lennon. “I want him here. Leigh just needs a bit more time to get up to speed.There is always a chance of players getting niggles but because Leigh has had that sabbatical, he’s finding it hard to maintain the fitness standards. But in a few weeks he will be fit and firing again.”
Meanwhile, Holt has urged Livingston to focus on their own gameplan as they bid to cause a massive upset. Despite four defeats in a row, manager Holt is keen for his players not to get too hung up on the opposition, but to instead concentrate on themselves.
“We’ve had the debrief from last Saturday and looked at some things that we weren’t happy with, and then it’s been focused on Sunday’s game. It’s about painting pictures for them and showing them how, with our game-plan, we’re going to try to be successful.
“If we focus solely on Celtic and what Celtic are good at and how good their players are, and how big their squad is, we’ll end up going round and round the houses. Yes, it’s important to show them certain traits they’ve got but it’s more important to think about how we’re going to play when we’ve got the ball.”