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Lennon urges fringe stars to grasp their opportunity

Cluj v Celtic, Europa League Group E: Dr Radulescu Stadium, Today, 5.55pm

All change: Skipper Scott Brown is one of a number of big names Celtic boss Neil Lennon has left at home for tonight’s clash
All change: Skipper Scott Brown is one of a number of big names Celtic boss Neil Lennon has left at home for tonight’s clash

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon will field a much-changed Celtic side in their Europa League dead rubber against Cluj tonight but insists he is going for a win.

The Hoops have already won Group E to qualify for the last 32 of the tournament and, amid a busy fixture schedule, the Parkhead boss will take the opportunity to rest key players for the final match in Romania, where the home side need just one point to clinch second place.

Five players who featured in the Betfred Cup final win against Rangers at Hampden Park on Sunday were left behind in Glasgow, along with Australian midfielder Tom Rogic.

Skipper Scott Brown is suspended and 19-year-old right-back Jeremie Frimpong not registered for European football.

Speaking at the Dr Constantin Radulescu Stadium, Lennon revealed his squad with possible debuts for 18-year-old midfielder Scott Robertson and 19-year-old defender Grant Savoury and a first European appearance for highly-rated 16-year-old attacker Karamoko Dembele.

Lennon said: "Fraser Forster, Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, Odsonne Edouard, Tom Rogic and Ryan Christie - none of them have travelled.

"We have a strong team but we have Robertson, Dembele and Savoury in the squad but whether they start is another thing.

"The likes of Leigh Griffiths, Scott Sinclair, Nir Bitton, Moritz Bauer and Craig Gordon will all feature tomorrow night.

"As I said before, we're going to use the squad for this game. In this busy month there are some players who need game time and this is an ideal situation to give those players that extra motivation. We're here to be competitive and we're here to win.

"We've had a fantastic campaign. We have to respect the competition. We can take a huge amount of pride in what we've achieved in the group and we want to finish the campaign on a high if we can.

"We're not going to make it easy for them. We're here to play.

"There's no pressure on us which is a novelty for us in Europe. There's no pressure and that makes us a dangerous opposition for anyone."

Cluj boss Dan Petrescu said in his media conference earlier in the day that Celtic are capable of winning the tournament.

Lennon admitted it was "a very nice compliment" but the Lurgan man, whose side have won four and drawn one of their five Europa League fixtures, was not for looking too far ahead.

The former Celtic skipper said: "We have to play a lot of football before we can do that.

"We're delighted we've topped the group and we're looking forward to the Europa League in the second half of the season and hopefully we can make inroads in the competition."

Celtic, meanwhile, yesterday announced that former Parkhead defender Ian Young has died aged 76.

Young joined the Hoops in 1961 and spent seven years with the club during an era in which Jock Stein's leadership transformed Celtic from the also-rans of Scotland into European champions.

He may very well have been part of the Lisbon Lions side which became the first British side to conquer the continent had it not been for an injury which allowed the likes of Willie O'Neill and then Jim Craig to steal in front for the right-back slot.

In a statement, the Scottish champions said: "Everyone at Celtic Park was saddened to hear that former Celt, Ian Young who played for the club from 1961 until 1968, passed away suddenly after illness at the age of 76.

"The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Celtic Football Club are with the family and friends of Ian Young at this sad time."

Young joined Celtic from Neilston Waverley and scored three goals in 133 Celtic games before returning to Renfrewshire in 1968 to join St Mirren.

He had made his Buddies switch in a bid for more first-team action but sadly suffered a cruciate ligament knee injury soon after and saw his professional career cut short at the age of just 27.

But he will still be remembered fondly at Celtic Park.

He was a regular in the side when Stein arrived and starred as the club ended an eight-year trophy drought with their 1965 Scottish Cup triumph.

Belfast Telegraph


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