Neil Lennon insists there will be no sentimentality behind his team selection for Celtic’s delayed 2020 William Hill Scottish Cup final against Hearts at Hampden Park on Sunday.
The Hoops have arrested a slump in form with recent wins over Lille and Kilmarnock, with youngsters Conor Hazard, David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro in the side at the expense of two experienced goalkeepers in Scott Bain and Vasilis Barkas, veteran skipper Scott Brown and experienced Australia international Tom Rogic.
Speaking specifically about 35-year-old midfielder Brown, who has been at the heart of Celtic’s nine-in-a-row run in the Premiership and the club’s bid to win an unprecedented quadruple domestic treble, the Parkhead boss said: “He is a fabulous captain, fabulous player and I think at times we do miss him when he is not there.
“That’s been the case, albeit in the last couple of games we have been giving him a bit of a rest, the team have played very well.
“There is no question he is a huge presence on and off the field.
“As regards team selection, there will be no sentimentality involved in my thinking behind that with my backroom team.
“It is a cup final, a game we want to win. Everyone is in contention and I have to pick the best team for the occasion and to help us win another trophy.
“We are not there yet with the starting XI but we will discuss that and probably name the team tomorrow.”
Lennon refused to conflate Brown’s situation with his final appearance for Celtic when he was substituted in the 2007 William Hill Scottish Cup final victory over Dunfermline.
In the 66th minute and with the game goalless, then Celtic boss Gordon Strachan replaced the former midfielder with Gary Caldwell and Lennon was less than pleased but the Hoops went on to score a late winner through Jean-Joel Perrier-Doumbe.
“Don’t go there – it took me 13 years to get over that,” Lennon said with a smile before saying: “It is a different situation.
“I probably made a mistake by saying around March that I was going to leave at the end of the season and then it was like death by a 1,000 cuts, it dragged on and on.
“In Scott’s case he has got at least to the end of this season to play and maybe longer.
“It is not as if this is going to be Scott’s swansong if he plays.
“It’s not. Hopefully we can negotiate and try to maybe get to another cup final at the end of the season and he could and maybe should be involved in that as well.
“I mean there’s a lot of talk of whether I start him or not or start this one or not, it will be my decision and we will make the right decision for the club.”
Lennon is pleased with his side’s preparation as they go in search of a 12th successive trophy against a club they beat in last season’s final.
He said: “Nothing is normal about this season or this year but we have had a good week’s training with no fresh injury worries.
“Despite there not being any supporters there, the gravity of what lies ahead of us, it’s a remarkable situation we find ourselves in and hopefully one we can make the best of and overcome.
“We are one step away from a monumental piece of history and I don’t think we will see it again in our lifetime.
“It is a huge game and I just wish there were people there to see it and be a part of it.”