With Juventus on the horizon, Lennon hopes Scotland boss Strachan will play the game

NEIL LENNON plans to be among the very interested spectators at Pittodrie tomorrow night when Gordon Strachan begins his reign in charge of the Scottish national team.

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Neil Lennon faces a nervy 90 minutes when Scotland face Estonia tomorrow night
Neil Lennon faces a nervy 90 minutes when Scotland face Estonia tomorrow night

However, while the Celtic boss will be hoping all goes well for his former manager, Lennon's real focus of attention will be on whichever of his players are selected to face Estonia.

It will serve as a nerve- saving distraction for the man who has had to wave goodbye to several of his key men this week just days ahead of the Champions League last 16 tie against Juventus.

As if to exacerbate the ill-timed international interlude, Celtic are scheduled to play Inverness in the Highlands at noon on Saturday.

Some of Lennon's players will hardly have had time to unpack after returning from international duty before they have to jump on the bus heading up the A9 on Friday afternoon.

The head count and injury check may have to take place around Aviemore.

It's far from ideal preparation for facing Juve, a match Lennon describes as one of the most important the club have played for many years.

And who can argue, given the prestige and cash which defeating the Serie A leaders would bring?

Which is why the next few days will be fraught for the Hoops boss as he tries to keep tabs on all of his players on international duty.

He has already spoken to Strachan about looking after his Bhoys, but they enjoy a close relationship not mirrored with any of the other international bosses 'borrowing' his players.

Lennon is doing his best to open channels of communication, but it is not easy.

He explained: "I have not managed to speak to all the national team bosses who have selected our players, but I will try to speak to the likes of Chris Coleman (who has got Adam Matthews and Joe Ledley in his squad).

"The problem is that a lot of the managers come from countries where they do sometimes feel it is a slap in the face if the players don't go to join up with them.

"But they have got to take our position into consideration. We have got the biggest game in years coming up a week tomorrow."

It's the timing of this international fixture which is so frustrating for Lennon.

"Obviously, for international coaches, they are not pointless friendlies," he said. "But, from our point of view, to have this international fixture date this week is very alarming."

He is, however, becoming used to dealing with the anxiety such weeks bring, and has a tried-and-trusted coping mechanism.

"I sit by the phone, basically," he revealed. "This time I might go up to Aberdeen for the Scotland game because I have three or four involved in that.

"I will just keep an eye on some of the players. I would be quite happy to see James Forrest get a bit of game time. I don't see any problem with that, so long as it is not too demanding on him."

Another run-out in Dark Blue for the youngster who only returned to competitive action on Sunday at Kirkcaldy would, indeed, be beneficial as the Juve tie creeps closer.

Fraser Forster had not recovered from his neck injury in time to face Raith, but he is now being aimed at Inverness on Saturday, where he will be given the chance to get his eye in again before next Tuesday's Champions League clash.

Lennon revealed the keeper could have been away with England this week, but it was felt better for him to stay at Lennoxtown to continue his rehab.

However, the timing of Saturday's SPL game at Inverness will make it a push for some of those who are heading back from foreign parts.

It's not the first time such a far-flung fixture has followed an international break, then been brought forward to an early kick-off. Lennon's resigned reaction is: "Yes, marvellous. But I will ring the changes for that game anyway. Although I will put a strong team outup there, I will obviously have Juventus in mind."

Saturday might have been the perfect time to give Rami Gershon a run-out, but the Israeli international defender is being slowly re-introduced to full work after requiring an injection to help him overcome a groin problem.

He was signed on loan from Standard Liege with a view initially to filling the breach, while Kelvin Wilson was suspended and Efe Ambrose was on Africa Cup of Nations duty.

But the lack of match practice in Belgium prior to arriving at Celtic has been self- evident, though Lennon is not sure it was Gershon pushing himself too hard in training to get up to speed which threw him into reverse.

"I don't know about that," said the manager. "He has just not had much football. Sometimes guys can come in from the cold, like Mikael Lustig did last year, and they get these little niggles."

New keeper Viktor Noring is also keen to show what he has to offer, and Lennon is delighted the Swedish international has got all the necessary paperwork to begin his loan spell at Parkhead.

He said: "That's done, and we have a third keeper, which is great. We couldn't get him for Sunday's cup-tie, but he will bed himself in now."

Noring would have seen a very determined bunch of team-mates defeat Raith Rovers 3-0. Lennon believes it was the perfect answer for those who were claiming that, after the League Cup semi-final defeat to St Mirren, the domestic cups did not mean enough to the Celtic players because they have bigger targets in their sights.

The irked manager insisted: "It's nonsense for anyone to suggest we are not interested in the cup competitions. Why would be go all the way to the semi-final of the League Cup if we didn't think we could win it or didn't think we wanted to compete in it?

"It's the same with the Scottish Cup. We are in the quarter-final now, and we want to win this competition.

"I think the players showed that too by the way they played against Raith Rovers. I wouldn't say it was a brilliant performance, but it was a professional performance and exactly what I wanted from the team."


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