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Inverness CT 1 Celtic 3: Lennon leaves big guns at home for Highland stroll

THE record books will confirm that Celtic came and went from the Highlands at the weekend, even if it felt like they were never truly there.

Rami Gershon embraces Tom Rogic after heading Celtic in front during a match in which both had promising debuts. Picture: PA
Rami Gershon embraces Tom Rogic after heading Celtic in front during a match in which both had promising debuts. Picture: PA

Certainly there was no point Juventus being represented for any last-minute research ahead of tomorrow night's Champions League tie. Nine of the probable Celtic team for that compelling fixture – just about all of the big guns – were nowhere to be seen in Inverness. The Celtic support was also about 57,000 down on the number which will present a wall of sound for the Italians.

Of the 14 players who saw playing time for Celtic only Fraser Forster, Adam Matthews and Kris Commons can feel confident of being on from the start tomorrow night. Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, rested Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama, Scott Brown, Charlie Mulgrew, Kelvin Wilson, Mikael Lustig, James Forrest, Joe Ledley and Emilio Izaguirre, while Georgios Samaras was unfit but may yet recover.

In truth it was hard to attach the remotest significance to Saturday's victory in terms of what it would mean for tomorrow night. No sooner had the final whistle gone than Commons, like all the others, allowed his thoughts to race ahead.

After a low-key win at the open and blowy Caledonian Stadium, the bearpit of Parkhead awaits. Commons was asked if it might unsettle the Italians and thought not, but said its power to inspire the Celtic players was immense.

"Juventus are no mugs, it's not like they have never seen this sort of atmosphere before," said the forward. "They get paid incredible wages to deal with that and play in these arenas but the atmosphere at Parkhead gives us a lift and increases our game. That's why we are more than capable of beating the best teams in Europe: because of our fans.

"It's a weird feeling. You try to stay as calm as possible and you get all this advice from people telling you not to let the crowd affect how you play, but it's hard to do that. I'm 29 now and I think my experience has told me that you've just got to relax and try to ignore the crowd. But when you are playing well you want to lift the crowd and put the pressure on Juventus.

"In the three games that we've played at Celtic Park [against Benfica, Barcelona and Spartak Moscow in the group phase] we have stood up and been counted and raised our games. When it comes to the crunch all 11 men on the park have to raise their games a little bit more.

"We've always been underdogs so for us to start taking the approach that we've made it would be the wrong attitude. We've gone into these games as underdogs, as people who are hungry for the game and want to prove our point, and show the critics are wrong."

Commons played the full 90 minutes in Celtic's win over Barcelona in November but does not believe this last-16 tie presents any greater a task than the one in the group stage against the Catalans.

"I think playing against arguably the best team in the world is a tougher game on paper but I think we're now playing for something a lot bigger," he said.

Incidentally, Celtic won the league on Saturday. Defining the pivotal results in this procession for Celtic this season is as inexact as trying to determine the exact point where a river becomes the sea, but winning away from home against the team in second place, and opening up an 18-point gap, is probably as significant a result as any. The visiting supporters sang "we've won the league again".

The Celtic side had no significance to the club's immediate future, ie tomorrow night, but certainly some for the long term. Tom Rogic – a tall, elegant young Australian midfielder – gave a quietly assured performance and Rami Gershon was an untroubled presence as one of the back three alongside Thomas Rogne and Marcus Fraser. Miku Fedor looked ineffectual for much of the day only to score a late goal and then hit the post with a wonderful improvised attempt.

Commons had thrashed home their equalising goal and Gershon put them ahead with a header after Nick Ross had capitalised on Forster's uncertainty to put Inverness ahead. The Inverness club have had a marvellous season and contributed plenty to a lively match, but four consecutive defeats have dimmed their flame.

INVERNESS CT 1 CELTIC 3 Lennon leaves big guns at home for Highland stroll in anticipation of a more important game on the horizon, writes Michael Grant

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