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Stephen Craigan: Hoops wise to protect hotshot Edouard

Odsonne Edouard
Odsonne Edouard
Leigh Griffiths
Vakoun Bayo
Lightweight attack: Neil Lennon (pictured) and his limited options up front Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths and Vakoun Bayo
Stephen Craigan

By Stephen Craigan

It was no surprise to me when I looked at Neil Lennon's team selection against Rennes on Thursday night that Odsonne Edouard wasn't in the match day squad.

You only have to look at the busy month ahead for Celtic and the limited options at centre-forward for Lennon to understand that wrapping his star player in cotton wool was the wise thing to do.

With Celtic already qualified for the last-32 of the Europa League, there was no need to risk such an influential player in a game that mattered little in the grand scheme of things.

Leigh Griffiths has recently returned to the first-team fold but isn't up to match speed and with Vakoun Bayo out injured, keeping Edouard fit is a necessity for Lennon if his side are to keep up their title charge.

Edouard has carried the fight as the lone striker in the majority of Celtic's games this season. He's already scored 14 goals but his value to the team is worth more than that with his all-round game. Losing Edouard would be catastrophic for Celtic's trophy drive, so Thursday night's omission was totally understandable.

When asked in a recent press conference about potential new recruits in January, Lennon said a centre-forward was his desire.

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Competition is healthy and brings the best out in players plus with Celtic challenging on all fronts, reinforcements could be the difference in the second half of the season.

Having to rely on one fully fit striker until then is a huge risk but Lennon will know this so he's got to hope that Edouard stays free of any injuries.

Looking across the city at their rivals Rangers, Lennon must have a slight tinge of jealousy as he watches Alfredo Morelos and Jermaine Defoe spreading the goalscoring responsibilities and sharing the game time.

Griffiths would be the ideal back-up for Edouard - however, he's had a stop-start past 18 months so it will take him time to get back to his best.

The fact that Lewis Morgan started ahead of him at Celtic Park on Thursday night gives us an insight into where Griffiths is fitness-wise: a work in progress. Morgan actually played well in a position that is slightly unnatural to him but a fully fit Griffiths would be a better long-term option.

It is great to see Griffiths back on the pitch as his goalscoring exploits over the years have been great to watch. Hopefully his troubles are behind him and the Celtic fans will want to see him get back to doing what he does best, scoring goals.

As for Bayo, it's fair to say he's looked a bit off the pace since his arrival and is raw in a few departments. Although he is currently out injured, I'm not sure his availability would change the Celtic manager's mind for the January window.

So as Celtic head to Ross County tomorrow, Lennon will hope giving Edouard the night off on Thursday will pay dividends. On the flip side, that's just what the County defenders need when they're on a run of eight games without a win - a fully refreshed Odsonne Edouard!

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