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Celtic boss Lennon hopes changes in Cluj pay dividends against Hibs

Celtic boss Neil Lennon is hoping his decision to field a makeshift side against Cluj on Thursday night will pay dividends against Hibernian on Sunday.

The Hoops had already won their Europa League group to secure a last-32 spot before the before the trip to Romania and the Parkhead boss left a clutch of key players in Glasgow, along with suspended skipper Scott Brown and right-back Jeremie Frimpong who is not registered for European competition.

Lennon made nine changes in total from the side which started the Betfred Cup final win over Rangers at Hampden Park last weekend and lost their first group game through second-half goals from defender Andrei Burca and midfielder Damjan Djokovic.

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It was the Scottish champions’ first defeat in 13 games in all competitions but Lennon was pleased that some players got some rest while others got some game time.

And as he turned his attention to the Ladbrokes Premiership match against his former club at Parkhead, he said:  “I took that calculated risk If you want to call that on Thursday because I have to think about the squad as a whole. I can’t keep running the players into the ground in pressure games.

“That game had nothing in it other than prestige.

“Hopefully that will work in our favour and come Sunday we will be ready to go.

“They (Hibs) had a great win at the weekend, beating an in-form Aberdeen team.

Jack Ross File Photo

Jack Ross is the man in charge of Hibernian (Adam Davy/PA)

“Jack (Ross, manager) has been a great appointment for them, slowly but surely getting the best out of the players.

“I know the players very well there and they can be a threat.

“It’s a game we are looking forward to, we will assess all the players on Friday and get them ready for Sunday.”

Olivier Ntcham relished the role as stand-in skipper alongside 18-year-old debutant Scott Robertson in Romania.

He said: “It was the first time I captained the club and I really enjoyed this on my shoulders.”

Heart of Midlothian v Celtic – Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership – Tynecastle Stadium

Celtic’s Olivier Ntcham has enjoyed being their stand-in skipper (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Ntcham insists that vying for a regular place in a highly-competitive midfield area is making him a better player.

The 23-year-old  Frenchman, who joined Celtic from Manchester City in the summer of 2017, added: “It is a big challenge and that is the game.

“With a lot of midfielders, you have to progress, that is part of the competition.

“I think I am improving and I think you can see that game after game.

“The whole team played quite well. Maybe sometimes we needed to be more clever in front of goal but it was a good game to show the spirit of the team.

“It was also the chance to see some young players and it was quite nice for them to get some game time in the first team.”