Friday 15 December 2017

Lennon expects Sammy to be fit

Celtic boss wants Greek to lead line in tonight's Elfsborg clash

NEILL LENNON will turn to Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons to steer Celtic through tonight's Champions League qualifier away to Elfsborg.

The Hoops take a 1-0 lead into the tie, courtesy of a Commons header last week, knowing that their European travels will be over if they fail to hold off the Swedes.

A year ago every Celtic European tie was dominated by talk about the club's awful away record in the Champions League but victories over HJK Helsinki, Helsingborgs and Spartak Moscow have put that factor to bed.

Samaras has scored in six of Celtic's last seven European away ties and was targeted for some rough treatment by the Swedes in last week's first leg.

After missing Saturday's 2-1 win over Ross County through injury the enigmatic Greek will be the first name on Lennon's team-sheet tonight with the Hoops boss looking for some more big-game magic.

"Sammy is a player who has improved immensely in the last couple of years," Lennon admitted. "He's always striving to get better. He works on all aspects of his game and is a fantastic professional.

"We have relied heavily on him but I don't want to keep relying on him. I want him to play well but I'm hoping another couple of players come to the fore in that regard as I think we may have to score to go through.



"He's still a wee bit tender but we will give him every opportunity and all the time in the world and we are pretty confident he will be fit to start."

Elfsborg won't be fooled by any kidology over the fitness of Samaras. Despite a credible display last week at Parkhead they have it all to do tonight knowing that one goal for Celtic will leave them requiring three to progress in the competition. Lennon has no intention of hanging on to his side's first leg lead and will pick a team designed to win.

"We are decent on the counter-attack and have decent pace in forward areas," the Celtic boss explained. "We will try to take the game to Elfsborg as best we can. Our recent record away from home in Europe is good but that counts for nothing on the night.

"We are playing against a different team, a very good team, and one who gave us a lot to think about in the corresponding game.

"They set up a little bit differently to Helsingborgs and were more 4-5-1 at Celtic Park. I would imagine they will be a little bit more forward-thinking in their approach this evening.



"Swedish players always have a good mentality and they won't believe they are out of this tie. We know that if we score, Elfsborg have to get three and that's what we will be setting out to do."

Tonight's match looks likely to be Kelvin Wilson's last appearance as a Celtic player.

Two years after joining the club on a free from Nottingham Forest, the defender is subject to a €3million bid from his former club. Lennon has already lost Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper from last season's squad and is bracing himself for the departure of Wilson.

"He has family in Nottingham, a young daughter, and he finds it difficult being away from that family environment," Lennon revealed about his former City Ground team-mate. "That is the main crux of his situation.

"Kelvin is a very good pro and I've known him for a long time. I understand the difficulties sometimes because situations crop up and you deal with them the best you can.

"He is important to us and will be important in this match. Having spoken to him, he is in the right frame of mind to play, which is a huge bonus for us.He is calm and I'm sure he won't let us down.

"There are things you can do and we'll try, but it could be his mind is already made up and it's a difficult thing to deal with to try to change it. I don't know if this will be his last game – possibly."

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