John Kennedy is desperate for Callum McGregor to make Sunday’s massive clash against Rangers at Ibrox, saying that the mere presence of the Celtic captain in the team lifts the rest of the players.

The Celtic assistant manager is a massive admirer of McGregor’s abilities as a footballer first and foremost, but it is his leadership qualities that he believes could make a telling difference in what is shaping up to be a pivotal Old Firm clash in the context of the title race.

McGregor has been out of action since being withdrawn at half time in the 7-1 win over Dundee in late February, with manager Brendan Rodgers revealing that he has been struggling with an Achilles problem for some time.

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He returned to light training during the international break, but wasn’t risked on Livingston’s artificial surface at the weekend as the champions ran out 3-0 winners in West Lothian.

Kennedy backed up Rodgers’ assertion though that McGregor has a good chance of lining up at Ibrox on Sunday, and while he says there are other leaders within the team capable of stepping up to the plate in his absence, he admits that having McGregor’s experience and influence would be a major boost.

“He’s the captain, the leader of the group,” Kennedy said.

“Everyone turns to him. The good thing is that outwith Cal, we have other good leaders in Joe (Hart), Cameron (Carter-Vickers), Ali Johnston and these boys. They can pick up when he’s not there.

“But as the manager has said, hopefully Cal will be back in [full] training in the middle of the week. We’ll get him through that then the manager will decide later in the week whether or not he’s fit to play.

“It does [lift others when he is playing] and that’s what good players do. It’s not just their impact as a player. It’s very much about what they do for people around them. The best players you always see making others better, and that’s very much the case with Cal.

“When they’re not there sometimes the other guys have to carry a wee bit of an extra burden and there is more pressure on them. But the more good players you have in the team, the better.”

That has certainly been the case for Celtic in recent weeks with other key men like Reo Hatate and Carter-Vickers coming back into the line-up, and Kennedy believes they are gaining strength and momentum at precisely the right time.

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“Coming into this run-in, when you start to get all your players back in the group, it definitely makes us stronger,” he said.

“You can sense that. It gives us more belief and more momentum to go into the important part of the season.”