Posted on Aug 18
Celtic manager Neil Lennon fears his injury-hit side could struggle to reach the money-spinning Champions League group stages this season after they laboured to a 1-1 draw against minnows Ross County on Saturday.
The Hoops had almost a full starting 11 missing for the game against First Division champions Ross County, with key players such as Scott Brown, Anthony Stokes, Gary Hooper, James Forrest and Ki Sung-Yeung out injured.
Both sides had chances to open the scoring before Richard Brittain scored a sensational free-kick in the 49th minute to hand County the lead.
The Highlanders, who as a First Division club dished out a 2-0 defeat to the Hoops in the 2010 Scottish Cup semi-final, looked to be holding on for another shock win before Kris Commons tapped in an equaliser with virtually the last kick of the game.
Lennon's side now face Swedish side Helsingborgs on Tuesday as they aim to secure a place in the Champions League for the first time since 2008.
With rivals Rangers languishing in the Third Division, the revenue generated by reaching the group stages of Europe's elite competition could be vital to the Parkhead club.
"It's a big game for the club. There is a big jackpot at the end of it," Lennon said.
"For the players, and this is my main concern, it's a chance to develop themselves and enhance themselves at the highest level.
"We've got two tough games coming up against Helsingborgs and if we play like we did against Ross County it might be a bit of a struggle.
"But they showed great character and that will give them a huge lift going into Tuesday although we are expecting a far better performance overall."
Celtic have made an unconvincing start to the defence of their Scottish Premier League title with Saturday's draw coming on the back of a narrow 1-0 win over Aberdeen on opening day.
Lennon admitted some of his players had been suffering a hangover from the midweek internationals but expected his side to be boosted by the return of several players for the match against Helsingborgs.
"It has been a difficult week for some of them. Some of them have travelled for internationals and played and then travelled back," Lennon added.
"Sometimes you have to take that into consideration. They are human beings at the end of the day and they are expected to go out and be brilliant every week and that's not always going to happen.
"We've always had problems at times, even when I played, with the games after international games so I expected it to be difficult and tough for them but I expected us to play a little bit better.
"We were 11 players short and four strikers short so to come away without losing the game is good. We are hoping Brown, Forrest, Hooper and Paddy McCourt will all train on Sunday.
"We gave a rest to Thomas Rogne because he's played a lot of football so he will come back into contention as well. That's five that are going to be added to the squad already.
"In terms of the rest of the guys Anthony Stokes is a big doubt and Darryl Murphy will not make it."