With mounting injury problems again taking the fore at Celtic and next week’s massive Scottish Cup Final looming, Sunday’s clash at home to Hearts has all the potential to be a dour dead rubber.
For Neil Lennon though there’s no such thing as a pressure-free game. An impressive performance and win is needed to further bolster his credentials of becoming the permanent Hoops manager.
Luckily for him he can both navigate squad problems and win over fans by deploying three of the most exciting teenage talents at Celtic right now – Armstrong Oko-Flex, Ewan Henderson and Karamoko Dembele.
Lennon has already confirmed in his pre-match press conference that both Dembele and Henderson have trained with the first-team this week, while Football Scotland report that Oko-Flex was also spotted at Lennoxtown training with the senior squad on Friday.
With James Forrest and Jonny Hayes both absentees for the visit of Craig Levein’s side and Scott Sinclair struggling for form, Dembele and Oko-Flex are obvious replacements on each attacking flank – both have been stand-outs in the SPFL Reserve League this season.
Having already made five first-team appearances Henderson is also the perfect attacking midfield stand-in for Tom Rogic, who should be wrapped in cotton wool ahead of next week’s showpiece final.
All three have the ability to add an attacking energy to a Celtic team that has been severely lacking of late, reminding Celtic’s misfiring regulars that their place in the starting XI isn’t as secure as they might like to think.
Rogic’s recent contribution at Celtic has been rather frustrating for all concerned.
It’s true that some of the Hoops’ best football this season has been played with the Australian in the side alongside Callum McGregor and Ryan Christie, but since the turn of the year he’s either been absent through injury or fairly anonymous on the pitch when selected.
Registering just one goal and one assist since his March return to the team, his overall performances have looked well off the pace recently.
Obviously he remains one of the squad’s best and most important players but a timely, crowd-pleasing Ewan Henderson appearance could be the perfect way to demonstrate his place in the team is not guaranteed.
Sinclair meanwhile badly needs competition too, having failed to score for nearly three months.
There’s no doubt Celtic need to enter the transfer market later this summer to find quality on the left flank, but a good performance from Oko-Flex could lead to usage in the earliest European qualifiers.
At lot has been made of these emerging academy talents. The time has now come to see whether they have made enough progress to shine at senior level and put some pressure on Celtic’s biggest names.