CHRIS SUTTON insists it’s time for Celtic’s fringe players to stand up and be counted.
The former Hoops frontman insists his old team-mate Neil Lennon will require every ounce of effort from his squad in what could be a phenomenal campaign for the Hoops.
The champions will bid for a historic TENTH successive crown and have the possibility of landing a remarkable quadruple treble before the turn of the year.
They could complete the campaign with the honour of dominating the domestic scene for five consecutive years, bringing in FIFTEEN pieces of silverware.
Lennon’s men will play Aberdeen in their Scottish Cup semi-final which was due on Easter Sunday, but was postponed during the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The SFA have pledged their prestigious competition will restart in the new campaign and October and November have been mentioned as possible months to resume action. Edinburgh duo Hibs and Hearts are scheduled to meet in the other last-four encounter.
The Parkhead gaffer has been scouring the transfer market to strengthen his team and Sutton points out his old side had to rely on goals from Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths after the turn of the year to push them 13 points clear at the top of the Premiership with eight games to go.
The one-time England international forward is now looking to Polish frontman Patryk Klimala and Ivorian attacker Vakoun Issouf Bayo to prove they are worth the joint £5.5million that has been spent on bringing them to Scotland’s title kings.
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “Let’s be honest, Klimala is not going to shift Odsonne Edouard or Leigh Griffiths in the short term. Edouard has been so instrumental for Celtic in recent years and Griffiths really made a difference when he came back after the winter break.
“I think a lot of people might have felt he wouldn’t be back at all – but Griffiths returned and played a huge part in the run of form after the New Year that secured the title.
“Neil Lennon went with two up front after January and the change in style and formation worked a treat.
“But going two up top doesn’t leave a lot of margin or error if even one of them gets injured.
“Right now if one was to be out, Lennon would need to alter the entire shape of his team.
“Look at last season, as well. Celtic were left without a striker in the Betfred League Cup Final. Edouard managed to soldier through after coming off the bench, but it was Lewis Morgan who started up front that day.
“Celtic can’t allow that situation to happen again – which means Klimala and Bayo will need to be ready.
“It’s not even like they can be allowed to take their time and develop. This coming season is so huge there is no room for experimentation. Everyone who is in that squad needs to be ready to play their part.
“Klimala might not have cost a lot of money in English terms, but £3.5million is a more than decent outlay for Celtic in the context of Scottish football.
“It’s the same with the £2million for Bayo.
“I understand it’s a difficult market. Celtic are going after players who are attracting a lot of interest elsewhere and it pushes up the price. They need to find some rough diamonds to polish up, I get that. The simple fact is all Scottish clubs are in the development market.
“But it’s still a fair amount of money and at some point they will want to see a return on their investment.
“It would be harsh to judge the pair at present, though. Bayo has had wretched luck with injuries since coming to Scotland and Klimala only had a few minutes here and there to make an impression.
“He started against Clyde and was I blown away by his performance? Not really.
“You need to cut him some slack, but if Lennon was liking what he was seeing in training he might have featured a bit more. It’s good to see he’s bulked up, but as long as it’s not at the expense of the pace which his reputation is built on.
“The new few weeks will be key. That’s why this is a huge pre-season for Klimala, as well as the likes of Bayo and Ismaila Soro, who also arrived for decent money in January.
“This is their chance to show their manager they can be Celtic players this coming season.
“At the moment, Lennon will probably be thinking about adding another striker as back-up – it’s up to Klimala and Bayo to show him there’s no need.”
Klimala made three appearances for the team following his January arrival, but is still awaiting his debut goal. Bayo had 16 outings – 14 off the substitutes’ bench – and scored twice, in the 5-0 Betfred League Cup victory over Partick Thistle and the 3-0 Scottish Cup win at Clyde.
Sutton added: “We have to wait and see what Soro brings to the party. He’s arrived as a defensive midfielder, but we all know Scott Brown is going to take some shifting from the side, even at the age of 35.
“There have been plenty of players who have arrived with the promise of being the next Scott Brown, but they’ve found out the real one is in no mood to take a back seat yet.
“That’s the kind of competition Celtic need and want though. It should be difficult to get in to Lennon’s side, but now is the time to state your case.”