Neil Lennon wants Celtic to stay top of pile in case of another Covid-19 curtailment

Manager wants to ensure his side are in pole position if virus causes another shortened season
Celtic’s £4.5m goalkeeper, Vasilis Barkas, is set to make his debut at Rugby Park after sitting out last Saturday’s opening fixture. Picture: SNS.Celtic’s £4.5m goalkeeper, Vasilis Barkas, is set to make his debut at Rugby Park after sitting out last Saturday’s opening fixture. Picture: SNS.
Celtic’s £4.5m goalkeeper, Vasilis Barkas, is set to make his debut at Rugby Park after sitting out last Saturday’s opening fixture. Picture: SNS.

It is not a scenario anyone wants to confront, especially after only one round of matches have been completed, but Neil Lennon already knows Celtic have to make sure they are in pole position to win another incomplete Premiership season

The top-flight fixture list’s vulnerability to the impact of Covid-19 has been illustrated by the postponement of Aberdeen’s game at St Johnstone this weekend after eight of the Pittodrie club’s players breached the “Return to Play” protocols governing the 
2020-21 campaign.

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Celtic won the 2019-20 league title on a points-per-game basis, the Scottish champions having been 13 points clear at the top of the table with eight games left to play when football was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Lennon believes it would be “disastrous” for Scottish football if this season also has to be curtailed but he nonetheless recognises that his team need to ensure they are again leading the way if or when it should happen again.

Celtic made a powerful start to their bid for a record-breaking tenth consecutive title with a 5-1 home win over Hamilton Accies last Sunday which put them on top of the embryonic league standings on goal 

Lennon, inset, wants his players to keep setting the pace as they prepare to face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park tomorrow 

“It’s a good point (about staying top of the league in case it is called),” he said. “It’s not something I’ve really given much thought to, because we’ve only just got the season up and running.

“We know we are going to have stiff opposition as we go, and it’s important that we do try to keep our noses in front. We’ve made a great start, obviously, and we’ve got a real difficult game on Sunday at a difficult venue.

“Ideally, we don’t want this called again. We’re talking about things that are out of our control. We don’t want to shut down again, it would be disastrous for everyone concerned.

“But if that eventuality was to come around, I think it’s important that we find consistency and a level of performance that matches last year. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

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Rugby Park is likely to be the scene of Vasilis Barkas’ debut for Celtic, the club’s most expensive ever goalkeeper having settled for a watching brief from the bench last weekend following the Greek international’s £4.5 million arrival from AEK Athens. Barkas is now poised to dislodge Scott Bain from the Celtic line-up.

“He’s had a good week’s training so we’ll make a decision on that in the next 24 hours,” said Lennon.

“But he’s had a good week in training. Going to Rugby Park, it will be – I wouldn’t say an eye-opener for him – but certainly a bit different. There will be no fans plus the artificial pitch. So we’ll need to make sure he’s as well prepared as possible by kick-off time in terms of the conditions and circumstances he’ll face.”

Lennon remained tight-lipped on the possibility of further additions to his squad amid fresh speculation Celtic are close to a loan deal for West Ham United’s Swiss international striker Albian Ajeti. “There’s nothing confirmed there,” he said. “We’re dealing with speculation here. I don’t know if we’re close to signing anyone at the minute or if we are a million miles away. I’ve no comment to make on that.

“In terms of where we are as a squad, I obviously want to add to it, but I’m really happy with the way we’ve started the season.

“As a manager, you do have your preferences (in the transfer market) but sometimes you maybe don’t get your number one option. So it’s important to have four or five of a similar ilk to go to.

“Nothing is ever cut and dried until you get the player in the building and get them signed on the dotted line. There’s a mountain of work going on in the background on a number of players in a number 
of positions.”

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