SCOTT BROWN will lead the nine-in-a-row champions in their Premiership encounter against St Mirren in Paisley tonight.

The reliable Celtic warhorse, who will be 36 in June, is in the final few months of his contract and, as yet, has not been offered an extension by the club he joined for £4.4million from Hibs in 2007 and has lifted a remarkable TWENTY-TWO trophies in his spectacular career at Parkhead.

The smart money is on Brown landing a 12-month deal, at least, to continue in the east end of Glasgow.

Pressure has engulfed Celtic Park in an exasperating season that promised so much in the summer and went so disastrously wrong even before the turn of the year.

There has been a scattergun approach to criticism and no-one has been spared the sniping as memories of silverware success in the not-too-distant past have been obliterated under an avalanche of observations that have bordered on the unnecessarily abusive.

Manager Neil Lennon and the captain who guided the club to a phenomenal quadruple treble on December 20 last year have been sitting targets for the fury and the rage of fans calling for change.

Both have continued to go about their business, though, with Brown returning to the line-up for the back-to-back wins over Kilmarnock – where he scored the opening goal with a picture-book diving header in the 4-0 victory – and the 2-1 success over Motherwell at the weekend.

Now he is odds-on to lead the team against Jim Goodwin’s side who last month celebrated their first league triumph in the east end of Glasgow since 1990.

Looking at the gallant captain’s current situation, Lennon admitted: “It has been difficult because of the influence he’s had and what he’s achieved in the game and how he’s received in the dressing room.

“He probably hasn’t been at his influential best this season.

“When we went into the lockdown last March he was playing brilliantly, looking really fit and producing really powerful performances. The lockdown had an adverse impact on him.

“Broony is also one of those players who feeds off the energy of the crowd, so having no fans in the ground hasn’t helped him, either.

“It’s always difficult when you see a player with that temperament and personality start to come towards the end of his career – you have to deal with that as delicately as you possibly can.”

Lennon, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I brought him back for the Scottish Cup Final against Hearts in December because I thought it was the right thing to do with a player with his experience and quality. And that proved to be the case.

“He still has a lot to offer, although maybe not so much as he has done in previous seasons. That’s just the natural course of things, whether it’s football or any other walk of life.

“I thought he was excellent at Kilmarnock last midweek and he also played well for an hour against Motherwell at the weekend.

“He had a couple of games out through suspension and came back fresh and strong.”

This unpredictable campaign has seen the emergence of David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro as two genuine first-team quality youngsters as the formation of players will inevitably evolve to meet future challenges.

Lennon added: “From a playing perspective, those two stand out, but you’ve got to give them time.

“For different reasons, they both had to wait for their opportunities. David, in particular, has really blossomed since he’s come in, but they’ve both made a real imprint on the team this year.”

It is the here-and-now tests Celtic have to acknowledge and Brown is ready to stand up to be counted.

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from St Mirren v Celtic this evening – only in your champion CQN.

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