Celtic's fringe benefits shine bright but it's old heads who steer the ship

Fringe players played their part, but it was the stalwarts who proved their value as Celtic rounded off their mid- season break with a 2-1 win over Steaua Bucharest in Marbella.

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Anthony Stokes returned to the fold as a substitute for Celtic in Marbella
Anthony Stokes returned to the fold as a substitute for Celtic in Marbella

It is doubtful whether boss Neil Lennon – in England for a series of meetings – will be told anything he didn't know by his coaching staff who watched the game as goals from Georgios Samaras and Mo Bangura were the difference.

The most important work in terms of preparation will have been done away from the cameras last week as the club look to turn the screw domestically and prepare for their forthcoming Champions League last 16 tie against Juventus.

Fighting on four fronts, Lennon will feel that the break away will have given his side an opportunity to recharge and re-energise themselves as they get set for the latter part of the campaign.

Last night's victory over Steaua ultimately amounts to nothing more than a kickabout in the sun, but it does remind Celtic of the importance of keeping possession in European football and closing people down quickly.

It was a lesson they had to be reminded of in the early stages of the game when Stefan Nikolic was able to open the scoring with a rifled shot past Fraser Forster's understudy, Lukasz Zaluska.

For all that the shot was fierce, the Polish keeper may feel on reflection that he could have done better. A later save from the feet of Adi Rocha was far more confident and assured, but it is unlikely that Forster will feel that his position is under any threat.

As tends to be the case in these games, Celtic, regrouped and rang the changes at the break with the rewards coming pretty quickly.

The leveller was a scrappy affair just five minutes after the interval when Samaras prodded the ball over the line but Bangura's header three minutes later had a little bit more finesse.

The striker, who has just returned from a loan deal with AIK in Stockholm, has never quite looked the part in previous outings for Celtic, but his goal will have done him no harm at all in terms of confidence.

It remains to be seen whether or not he can push his way into Lennon's plans, but given the fact that Celtic have a nine-point cushion in the SPL and may want to rest players given the amount of games they will be playing in the coming weeks, it served notice of his availability.

Anthony Stokes, too, re-emerged from the treatment room to put in 20-odd minutes. The Irish striker has been sidelined since August after damaging his ankle ligaments. But, mostly, it was the old faces who showed their value last night.

Kris Commons, a player who recaptured his early Celtic form this season, showed just how important he is to Lennon this term.

It was the midfielder's pinpoint delivery that led to Celtic's second of the evening while he was key to much of the Parkhead side's forward movement as the game continued.

Captain Scott Brown, whom many had predicted would have been put into cold storage as soon as Celtic had won their way into the last 16 of the Champions League, played the second period and looks as though whatever happens he will be pushing on to the end of the season.

It is good news for Lennon who will need the tenacity and energy of his captain in the busy months that lie ahead.

Same goes for Samaras. The Greek international has reserved some of his best form this season for the European arena and his presence will be vital in the looming game against the Italians.

This week, though, it is back to the more routine business of the SPL. Lennon's team return to a home game against Hearts and it is now simply a case of kicking on.

The league form in the opening half of the campaign was erratic at times and it hasn't proved to be quite the stroll that most of us had predicted for Celtic.

Yet, for all that they have been up and down in the league, there has been no lasting effect of that in terms of the table and it remains a distinct possibility for Lennon to write his name into the club's history pages this year by becoming only the third manager to secure a domestic Treble.

The game against Hearts is quickly followed by the League Cup semi-final against St Mirren and Lennon will feel that it may be in his best interest to use the full squad he has at his disposal to ensure that key players are rested and are in peak condition for the Champions League tie.

With another couple of weeks to go in the transfer window it will also be busy in terms of ensuring the wolves are kept from the door while the scouting is ongoing for summer recruits.

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