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Trust in me: Stark moves to allay Lennon's concerns over players

Billy Stark has reassured Neil Lennon that his Celtic players will be used carefully in tonight's low-key friendly in Luxembourg.

Billy Stark has a depleted squad at his disposal in Luxembourg
Billy Stark has a depleted squad at his disposal in Luxembourg

Lennon had said he intended to ask for Kris Commons and Charlie Mulgrew to be withdrawn for the squad for Luxembourg, but the caretaker Scotland manager never received any request and the Parkhead pair were in the squad which flew out from Glasgow yesterday.

Celtic are anxious about their players being injured or overused in an unimportant friendly given that they travel to Aberdeen in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League on Saturday before facing Benfica away in their penultimate Champions League Group G game next Wednesday. But Stark, in temporary charge while the SFA begin the process of finding a successor to Craig Levein, said he had spoken with Lennon and believed the Celtic manager did not have a problem with the players being involved.

"When I spoke to him last week, I didn't detect any real signs of that," said Stark. "He said Kris and Charlie would be available. Neil sees them on a day-to-day basis and that judgment can change accordingly. Maybe when I spoke to him he was fine with it, but after the weekend he maybe he had a slightly different view. But hopefully he can trust me to be sympathetic and do everything I can to take care of them." Injuries also meant neither Scott Brown nor James Forrest were in the squad named by Stark.

"There is no sign to me that there will be any problems," added Stark. "The Champions League brings big games and this is a friendly international but Charlie and Kris have not been regular Scotland players. They certainly have the ability to be, so I think that they're looking on it as an opportunity – for however long they play – to show people they can do that. I have total respect and understanding for Celtic's situation. We have to be in a position to compromise sometimes but at the same time we need to look after ourselves and put out a team capable of winning the game.

"Against that there is the likes of Darren Fletcher and Steven Naismith who are short of matches, so they're really looking forward to the game. I think everybody is."

At least Stark got through the day without any further call-offs. There had already been nine over the weekend, which seemed to send out a somewhat dispiriting message about the players' interest in a November friendly in Luxembourg. But Stark remained confident that all nine withdrawals by English-based players; Steven Fletcher, James Morrison, Charlie Adam, Phil Bardsley, Shaun Maloney, Jamie Mackie, Barry Bannan, Matt Phillips and David Marshall, were down to genuine injury issues.

"You can call me naive but I'm not naive," he said. "I'm happy that all the call-offs are legitimate. I think England have got five players out or something like that, Northern Ireland are playing a World Cup qualifier and they've lost players too. It's just that point in the season where injuries start to catch up on people.

"I can understand why club managers think a wee break at this point of the season will allow those players to get back to full fitness. I understand that having been involved in club management myself."

Luxembourg are ranked 144th in the world compared to Scotland's 70th. The two countries are bottom of World Cup qualifying groups F and A respectively. Luxembourg lost 2-1 at home to Portugal and then drew in Northern Ireland in September, but Israel then thumped them 6-0 and 3-0 last month to leave them with one point from 12.

"I've been asked if this game is worthwhile," said Stark. "I think the manager at the time [Levein] felt it was because it gives you a chance to look at different options. I've been asked to do the job for this game and I want to enjoy the experience. I'm privileged and honoured to be in this position. I'd never underplay that or its significance."

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