A rest is as good as a change for Celtic

SO, what did the winter break training camp in the Costa Del Sol do for Celtic?

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Kris Commons was delighted to get some game time against Steaua Bucharest
Kris Commons was delighted to get some game time against Steaua Bucharest

A lot more than the opportunity to escape the freezing conditions back home and grab some winter sun.

Between the training sessions in the San Pedro complex, where pitch time was shared by a host of other clubs from across Europe, the chance to integrate Tom Rogic into the Celtic family was taken.

Rami Gershon, who jetted in to begin his loan spell at the club, was also afforded a golden and relaxed opportunity to get to know his new team-mates.

The warm-weather training which concluded with a competitive game against Steaua Bucharest was perfect for players returning from injury, including Joe Ledley and Kris Commons, still recovering from the stud-in-the-thigh horror tackle suffered in the win over Spartak Moscow at the start of last month.

"I've played one game in five or six weeks, so I definitely needed it," said the man whose penalty ensured Celtic made it to the last 16.

"It added to it with the TV being there and the crowd. We certainly needed to put a little bit more effort into it.

"Sometimes these friendlies, when you are abroad, you can go through the motions.

"But I thought there was a decent tempo to the game."

The icing on the cake on Tuesday was the unexpected opportunity for Mo Bangura, fresh from his loan spell at AIK in Stockholm, to score his first-ever first team goal for the Hoops.

With one flash of his tousled head, the previously-misfiring misfit from Sierra Leone spiked the guns – albeit temporarily –of the snipers who suggest there is no bang for your bucks with the man who cost the club £2.2million when he signed from AIK 18 months ago.

Bangura was hailed as a returning hero when he reported back to the Stockholm club as the transfer window was about to close at the end of August.

His strike rate and willingness to run until he dropped during his previous spell there had endeared him to the AIK fans, who have looked on in disbelief as the man from Sierra Leone has failed to fire in the Hoops.

Bangura did not disappoint during his loan spell, scoring important goals – including in the Europa League – and drawing an enquiry from AIK about his price, should Celtic want to offload him.

That could still happen as Neil Lennon has confirmed that he will be looking to allow some fringe men to leave, whether on loan or permanently, before February dawns.

And, as Bangura has already played for two clubs this season, under Fifa rules, AIK is the only team he could join before the summer.

The manager has peered through enough transfer windows to know that the final week, indeed, few days, is when the bulk of transactions – both in and out – are done.

Lennon has already beat the late rush to get important bits of his business done, with Gershon – the defensive cover he urgently needs as Kelvin Wilson is suspended for the SPL games against Hearts on Saturday and Dundee United next midweek and Efe Ambrose is on Africa Cup of Nations duty – bedding in, a light strain aside, and Rogic set to agree personal terms to conclude his move from Oz.

Lennon hopes the creative midfielder with the lovely left foot and added extra of prowess can confirm the long search for a No.10 to unlock defences is now at an end, and for a bargain fee of around £500,000.

Rogic looks in the shape to hit the ground running as soon as the paperwork – including a work permit – is in place, his fitness and form not an issue due to the fact the A-League, in which he has been a huge star, is in mid-season.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the 25-name squad list for the knockout rounds of the Champions League is submitted on February 1.

Clubs are permitted to make a maximum of three changes to the squad which was posted for the group stage, and Rogic, like Gershon, will want to show enough between now and then to muscle his way in.

Who makes way for any additions will also be intriguing, and cause one or two who have struggled for game time this season to suffer some sleepless nights.

Paddy McCourt is once again in the injured camp, and his timing could not be worse as, more than ever before, he is desperate to show that he has something to offer Lennon and the side.

The likeable and entertaining midfielder has been the subject of the kind of speculation which heralds the arrival of every transfer window.

This time, the MLS is reported to be calling, though not loudly enough to get a response, as yet, from Celtic.

Lennon continues to insist he is unwilling to consider allowing the Northern Irishman to go because he remains an important part of his squad.

However, it would be no surprise if a serious meeting to establish what McCourt sees with regard to his situation and his future, and what he can bring to the table at this precise time, is held before the month closes.

Celtic's very busy schedule prior to the break saw them play 35 games, and use almost the same number of players.

The hectic schedule will not slow now from the moment they get back in harness on Saturday with the visit of Hearts.

Free midweeks are as rare as Bangura goals, and now the business end of the season is about to get into full swing.

Lennon has to utilise his squad to avoid burnout before they can get their hands on the prizes which dangle tantalisingly in front of them, and he must be confident every resource at his disposal will be able to step into the breach when called.

The next few months could be among the greatest in the club's recent history, or they could provide some of the biggest disappointments.

Thanks to the last week, at least they will go into them in the best possible shape.

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