Diego Laxalt debut in Old Firm defeat impresses Neil Lennon
Neil Lennon took one positive at least from Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to Rangers in the shape of Celtic debutant Diego Laxalt.
The Hoops boss had to reshuffle his side after Nir Bitton, Hatem Elhamed, Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard were unavailable due to coronavirus issues with James Forrest and Christopher Jullien still injured.
Lennon decided to throw in the 27-year-old Uruguay wing-back, on loan from AC Milan, and give a second start to 20-year-old centre-back Stephen Welsh while Patryk Klimala led the line with Albian Ajeti and Leigh Griffiths, working their way back to full fitness, on the bench.
Laxalt did himself no harm in a match where again fans were absent although a Connor Goldson double took the Light Blues four points clear of Celtic at the top of the Premiership albeit the champions have a game in hand.
It was difficult for him coming in but he looked strong and he put some really good balls in the box
The Northern Irishman spoke to CelticTV about Laxalt and said: “He did well.
“It was difficult for him coming in but he looked strong and he put some really good balls in the box.
“His positional sense was good and he was comfortable in that environment.
“I thought young Welsh played really well considering, all the talk about before the game I thought he handled the game very well.”
Without looking to blame a depleted squad for the defeat, Lennon highlighted how far his squad was stretched.
He said: “You don’t want to play too much on that, to look for excuses.
“But you have three strikers, Ajeti, Griffiths and Edouard not fit enough to start the game.
“You have Forrest out, you have Jullien out, Bitton, Elhamed, so we missed a lot of quality.
“But we still had a good team out there and I felt we should have done better.
“We should have been at least level at half-time and that would have given us a foothold in the game
“But when we went 2-0 down it looked like we had run out of ideas and the subs really didn’t have the impact we were looking for.”
Lennon was unhappy that his team line-up had been leaked but he does not expect to have many of his absentees back for the opening Europa League group game against AC Milan at Parkhead on Thursday night.
He said: “James won’t be available, Chris Jullien, I doubt very much will be available and then the lads who are suffering from Covid.
“Maybe we’ll have Ryan back, I don’t know, we’ll have to see how he is in the next couple days.”