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Football | Europe

Celtic © Action Images

Celtic look to maintain advantage



Celtic winger James Forrest will be unleashed against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday as manager Neil Lennon aims to have him ready for their Champions League clash with Juventus next week.

The 21-year-old has had a stop-start season with a series of hamstring injuries hampering his progress.

However, the Scotland international made his first appearance for the Hoops since December 26 last Sunday, as he came off the bench to score his side's second goal during the 3-0 win over Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup.

The league leaders are entering a crucial spell of matches with a visit to Inverness CT, who are currently second spot in the league but 15 points back, before the first leg of the Champions League last-16 showdown with Juventus in Glasgow on Tuesday.

Lennon revealed he was so impressed by Forrest's pace, intent and fitness on his comeback that he will now be thrown straight back into the Celtic line-up for the clash at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium.

"James is a brilliant player. You can see what he brings to us and he's desperate to play.

"We just need to drip-feed him in now gently and we have to be careful there's no reaction," Lennon said of the player after he was sent home from Scotland's training camp ahead of their friendly win over Estonia when concerns were raised about the effect of playing on a heavy Pittodrie pitch.

"He's a wonderful talent and one of the best Scottish players we've produced for a long, long time. I think the world of him as a boy but as a footballer there's so much he can offer.

"He's been training great and desperate to get back in, but the physios have been holding him back. We've had to listen to them but it was great to get him some game time.

"We have the game up in Inverness next and we expect him to play and have him ready for Juventus.

"It was hugely important to get him some game time on Sunday. He makes us better, he drives everyone on, he excites people and got his goal.

Meanwhile, Inverness manager Terry Butcher, hopes Celtic's players will be distracted by their clash with the Italian league leaders when they come calling on Saturday.

The Inverness manager, who is looking to lift his side following three straight losses, said: "It's always the question. Is it a good time to play Celtic or a bad time to play Celtic?

"Whatever team Neil selects, they'll be trying like mad to hold that position down for the European match."

Following a heavy home defeat to the current pacesetters back in August, Caley stunned Celtic in November when Billy McKay scored the only goal at Parkhead.

Butcher added: "I think they'll be looking for revenge for the fact that we beat them down there and the fact that we're second and they're in first, they want to open up the gap even more."

Elsewhere on Saturday, Dundee United's new manager Jackie McNamara leads his side for the first time in the league when they host Hearts who are unbeaten in three matches, Aberdeen take on St Mirren and Kilmarnock welcome Motherwell to Rugby Park.

Fixtures

Friday

Dundee v Ross County

Saturday

Inverness CT v Celtic
Aberdeen v St Mirren
Dundee Utd v Hearts
Kilmarnock v Motherwell

Monday

Hibernian v St Johnstone

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