Celtic manager Neil Lennon today provided some positive news at his press conference regarding Kristoffer Ajer’s availability.
It’s been a bit of a stop-start return to action since the Winter break for the Norwegian. He didn’t make the Partick Thistle squad in our first match of the second half of the campaign before playing 90 minutes against Kilmarnock on the astroturf surface.
Lennon then confirmed after the 3-0 win over Ross County on Saturday that Ajer had picked up a virus (Daily Record). He stated that he hoped his centre-back would return to training on Monday.
Whilst he didn’t confirm when Ajer did get back training again, Lenny did state at his presser via Celtic’s official Twitter account that he was back in the squad:
🎙️ Neil Lennon: "We have a raft of games coming up now and we’ll just take it as it comes. Christie and Ajer are back in the squad which strengthens us and is an obvious bonus."
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) January 28, 2020
Must come straight back into the side when fit
Ajer’s importance to this Celtic side cannot be underestimated. Outside of the Ross County and Partick games, he had only missed two other matches this season. That was a second leg against Nomme Kalju when we were already 5-0 ahead on aggregate, and a match against Rangers at Ibrox for which he was injured. (Transfermarkt).
The game against Ross County also showed Ajer’s importance to the side. When Josh Mullin constantly got in behind Jonny Hayes at left-back, he didn’t get much help from Jozo Simunovic. Indeed, Jozo tried to trackback but didn’t have the pace to get vital blocks in.
Had it not been for some sharp reaction stops from Fraser Forster, Celtic could’ve been in trouble on Saturday. Ajer, meanwhile, has more pace than Jozo and is more reliable to stop Forster from having to make those kinds of stops.
St Johnstone are this Wednesday’s opponents, and they’re all about pace in behind. With the speed of Michael O’Halloran and even Stevie May to an extent, they’ll look to trouble Celtic in the same way Ross County did.
That means that it’s imperative that Ajer is back and in the side. His partnership with Christopher Jullien was the foundation for both our Betfred Cup and Europa League success respectively. It’s a proven duo.
Hopefully Ajer comes through the game unscathed and can really push on from here. With our next four matches coming away from home, we could certainly do with him back in the fold.