Celtic boss Neil Lennon hopes duo are to return to training on Monday

By David Walton

January 19, 2020

Celtic boss Neil Lennon hopes that both Kristoffer Ajer and Mikey Johnston will return to training tomorrow.

Both men missed Celtic’s 2-1 win against Partick Thistle at Firhill last night. In Ajer’s place, Nir Bitton managed to pick up a worrying knock. Johnston’s absence, meanwhile, meant that we lacked genuine width as Lennon refused to play with any wingers.

The Scottish Cup clash was a success, but it set up a worrying scenario for Wednesday. Celtic take the trip to Kilmarnock and look highly likely to be without Bitton. In addition to that, Jozo Simunovic, Bitton’s replacement yesterday, often doesn’t play on plastic pitches.

Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

With Jack Hendry also reportedly close to a switch to Australia (Daily Mail), Celtic would’ve been lacking in numbers. However, speaking in comments picked up by the Daily Record, Lennon stated he hopes that Ajer and Johnston would be back tomorrow.

“With Jozo, I’m a great admirer so it’s great to have him back. We lost Nir Bitton early with an injury – he felt something and we’re hoping it’s a strain and not a tear. But Jozo came in and did a good job, looked like he’d never been out of the team.

“And hopefully Ajer and Johnston will train on Monday.”

Defensive issues mounting

Even if Bitton’s injury is a strain, he wouldn’t likely be thrown onto Killie’s plastic pitch on Wednesday. So long as Ajer returns to training and is fit to play, we should be fine. But if he doesn’t, we have a massive selection concern for Rugby Park.

It could perhaps even force Lennon to go with three at the back. That would be a potentially dangerous game to play at a venue as tricky as Rugby Park. After all, we’ve only won one of our last three visits to Ayrshire.

Ajer’s return would solve that problem. Even then, however, any knock for Christopher Jullien or the Norwegian would still see us in the same situation.

Celtic’s Kristoffer Ajer (Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images)

For differing reasons, Celtic could be without Hatem Abd Elhamed, Hendry, Simunovic, and Bitton. That’s effectively all of our centre-back cover.

What it does do is stress the need for Lenny to go out and bring an additional centre-back in. Simunovic is a fine player, but we can’t rely on him staying injury-free. Bitton is also prone to the odd frustratingly bad-timed knock too.

In any case, hopefully we’re fine for Wednesday. Celtic have no margin for error at the moment, and Ajer’s return in particular would be most welcome.