A regal performance against Aberdeen this afternoon by a Scott Brown currently at the peak of his powers would hardly surprise his Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
The Irishman, though, yesterday snorted at the claim made by Hearts midfielder Loic Damour this week that Brown is given such impunity by officials in the country he is allowed to act like “the king of the league” and the “referee on the pitch”.
The verbal volleys by the Frenchman, in the wake of the Tynecastle men’s 2-0 defeat by the Scottish champions in a testy encounter on Wednesday, brought some fierce return fire from Lennon.
“The King of Scotland? Maybe in footballing terms he has been for quite a while, but I don’t know what he means about refereeing,” said Lennon. “He’s fine, though. He’s wearing a toga and being fanned and fed grapes by a bevy of beauties…
“The comments are ridiculous. It’s pathetic, actually. It’s a ludicrous comment from a player who’s probably been in Scotland for about three months. I thought Browny was fantastic in that second half.
“We’d told him to be careful because he has been cautioned, but he was majestic, if you’ll pardon the use of that word. He’s been outstanding all season.
“Look, it just doesn’t happen in football that players make the big calls. Browny doesn’t influence referees – he influences matches through his play and his reading of the game.
“Making points to the referee is part of a captain’s job; I used to do it all the time. But Bobby Madden’s as strong as they come and he won’t be influenced by players. Browny wasn’t barking at him all the time the way I used to be – we’ve moved on from that now.
“In the main, our players are impeccable when it comes to discipline. People have a premeditated perception of Scott before a game even starts and we’ve all been through that. But he’s playing as well as ever.
“He enjoys being on the edge after having been booked and it takes away the pressure from the other players. He’s very good at that and, to be honest, I’ve rarely seen him lose his temper since I came back. He hasn’t been sent off and I don’t recall any bad challenges from him. There’s been a bit of giving it back after games, but I think he’s entitled to do that sometimes.”
Celtic will seek to rack up a tenth straight league win this afternoon without Jonny Hayes, who has suffered a reaction to a shoulder injury he has had to manage since suffering the latest in a series of dislocations last month.
The converted left-back is out of contract in the summer, but the displays of a performer Lennon says has “incredible fitness levels for a 32-year-old” in pivotal games for the club this season – at Ibrox, the Betfred Cup final and away to Lazio noted his manager – have put him in line for new terms with his current contract expiring next summer.
“He’s got a lot going on his shoulder, quite apart from the recent injury, and he was in some discomfort on Wednesday and played on, but he’s too sore to take part against Aberdeen,” said Lennon, who has Boli Bolingoli back in contention for the left-back berth.
“Offering him a new contract is something we’re looking at and we’ve held tentative talks with his representatives. He’s one I’d definitely like to hold on to.”
Hayes, inset, must be considered a doubt for the derby at home to Rangers a week on Sunday, with on-loan winger Mohamed Elyounoussi ruled out of that key encounter.