Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Lennon asks Stark to give Celtic a rest

Celtic's Scott Brown battles with St Johnstone's Chris Millar (right) during the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League match at Celtic Park, Glasgow

Celtic 1 St Johnstone 1: After the Lord Mayor’s Show of victory over Barcelona in the Champions League came the dustcart of a 1-1 Scottish Premier League draw with St Johnstone.

Now Celtic manager Neil Lennon is looking for Scotland caretaker boss Billy Stark to make the national team a Celtic-free zone this week after claiming fatigue had caught up with his players.

Substitute Tony Watt — who scored the winner against Barca on Wednesday night — put the home side ahead in the 51st minute but Saints fought back and levelled in the 76th minute through Nigel Hasselbaink to leave the Hoops two points behind Hibernian at the top of the table, albeit with a game in hand.

With a game at Aberdeen next Saturday before a trip to Benfica in the Champions League the following week amid a relentless schedule, the Celtic boss is looking for Stark to leave Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons on the sidelines in the Luxembourg friendly on Wednesday night.

Hoops winger James Forrest was left out of Stark's squad with a hamstring complaint and skipper Scott Brown has been excused duty due to his ongoing hip complaint.

Lennon said: “I have spoken to Billy already but I might give him a call again tomorrow.

“I don't know if Charlie is fit enough to go now after today, we will see how he is tomorrow.

“Billy understands and that's the reason Scott is not in the squad and James is obviously out.

“The two of them (Mulgrew and Commons) have been picked but does he really need to play them at this stage of the season?

“We have two Scottish boys, (Israel's Beram) Kayal, (Greece's Georgios) Samaras, (Kenya's Victor) Wanyama, I'm not sure about (Nigeria's Efe) Ambrose and Miku (Venezuela), the two Welsh boys (Joe Ledley and Adam Matthews) have a get-together in Cardiff, but in terms of players travelling halfway round the world to play a friendly I am pretty concerned about that.

“It's a great opportunity this week to give players rest, we haven't been able to do that for a month. It has been game after game.

“Aberdeen and Benfica are two monumental games, especially Benfica, and could shape our season.”

The former Celtic captain, though, is not concerned with his side's recent SPL record which has seen them take two points from nine.

“I have been in worse positions than this,” he said.

“We are two points behind with a game in hand and if we win the game in hand we are top of the league.

“Last year we were 15 points behind. We have played considerably more games than any other team in the league, nine or 10 more and we are only into November.

“There was a flatness and lethargy but that's the amount of games catching up.”

Saints boss Steve Lomas apologised to referee Iain Brines after being sent to the stand in the second half for complaining to the referee over his decision to let Watt back on after receiving treatment.

He said: “I have been into see Iain and I have apologised for my language but it is a highly emotional game and I would have been very unhappy if they had scored.

Lomas insisted his side might have got more from the match had they been awarded a penalty kick when Celtic defender Ambrose challenged Saints substitute Gregory Tade at the edge of the box.

He said: “I thought the point was thoroughly deserved.”