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Galatasaray 0 Celtic 0: No trophy, but fringe players seize chance

BRING it on home, boys.

Galatasaray fans set off flares in the stands. Picture: SNS
Galatasaray fans set off flares in the stands. Picture: SNS

That is the invitation from Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, to those players who took the opportunity in the Antalya Cup to show they can contribute something to the Scottish champions after they make their return to Glasgow.

The trophy itself was left behind, in the keeping of Galatasaray, who, after being held to a goalless draw over 90 minutes, won the subsequent penalty shoot-out 5-4. But Lennon can reflect on an extremely worthwhile exercise, the object of which - quite apart from giving his squad the chance to enjoy better training conditions and, for a clutch of first-team regulars, some much-needed rest and relaxation - was to provide a platform for rising stars and fringe men to show what they can do.

Lennon is concerned he has leant very heavily on the same core of players in the opening 34 games of the season. Now, with their winning streak creating a virtually-unassailable lead in the SPFL Premiership, his mind is already skipping ahead to what he has - and what he will need - for next season.

To this end, while Peter Lawwell, the club's chief executive, continues to pursue signing targets, the manager took the chance to pitch several of his peripheral players into something like competitive action against Trazbonspor then Galatasaray.

Could any of the rising stars or summer recruits still waiting to make their mark grab the opportunity?

While Teemu Pukki and Amido Balde used the opening game to confirm they do have the ability to score goals for Celtic, against Galatasaray it was the turn of Nir Biton and Derk Boerrigter to step up to the plate. The Dutchman, his first few months beset by injury, not only showed the skill and pace to beat his man and deliver decent crosses, he also got under the skin of the Turkish champions.

So much so that, mid-way through the second half, he was the victim of a punch delivered by a very frustrated Galatasaray midfielder, Emre Colak.

Lennon was incensed, not least by the lack of reaction from the match officials, but it also drew an interesting response as he immediately replaced Boerrigter with Calvin Miller, the Scotland starlet who had turned 16 just three days earlier.

It summed up Lennon's approach to the entire opportunity which this invitation presented. He not only wanted to see what he had in reserve, but wanted to expose youngsters and fringe men to what they will be expected to contend with if they do realise their ambition of becoming part of his plans.

To this end, the Akdeniz University Stadium was an appropriate venue for this match, as a massive part of the learning curve of youngsters given the chance to sample a senior game against seasoned and respected pros such as Wesley Sneijder, the former Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue, and Albert Riera, the former Liverpool midfielder.

The side selected by Lennon was so lacking in experience that 22 year-old James Forrest was deemed the 'father-figure' and given the armband and the responsibility of leading this group into action. Lukasz Zaluska, with a series of decent saves throughout the match, also reminded Lennon his prolonged spell in Fraser Forster's massive shadow has not left him bereft of ability.

After making his debut as a sub against Trabzonspor, 18-year-old Eoghan O'Connell - so impressive in the European youth games - was in central defence, partnered by 19-year-old Marcus Fraser. Lennon entrusted the full-back positions to another pair of 19-year olds, John Herron and Darnell Fisher.

In front of them was the real kid in the starting XI, the 17-year-old Liam Henderson, who was handed a midfield spot alongside Biton and Boerrigter. Up front, two more survivors from the win over Trabzonspor, Pukki and Balde, were rewarded for their goals which helped Celtic book their place in the final with another chance to show they are beginning to knock off the rough edges which have snagged their progress to date.

They will just all be disappointed their sterling efforts, often in the face of uncompromising tackling, did not reap the reward of a trophy.

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