Date: 14th March 2019 at 11:16pm
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Neil Lennon will be without 13 Celtic first-team stars during the upcoming international break.

The Hoops’ first fixture back after the March international matches is at home to Rangers, with victory all but ensuring an eight league title in a row.

A draw would also be an acceptable result in the context of the ‘title race’, but defeat would bring Steven Gerrard’s team right back into things.

That makes it a huge match and Lennon will have to see goodbye to a huge chunk of his squad for the preparations.

Scott Bain, Kieran Tierney, Callum McGregor, James Forrest and Oliver Burke have all been called up by Scotland manager Alex McLeish for upcoming qualifiers away to Kazakhstan and San Marino.

Thankfully the trip to the Kazakhs comes first, with the Hoops players set to face the minnows on the way back to Scotland, minimising travel in the days preceding the Rangers match.

Elsewhere Dedryck Boyata has been called up by Belgium, Kristoffer Ajer by Norway and Mikael Lustig by Sweden, all of whom would have a good chance of starting the derby.

Emilio Izaguirre and Cristian Gamboa will likely be heading across the Atlantic to play for their countries although the reality is neither would feature against Steven Gerrard’s side, so that’s no big loss.

The other three recent performers in Lennon’s team to make trips are Nir Bitton, Ewan Henderson and Mikey Johnston. Henderson has the toughest schedule, playing three qualifying matches for the U19s Scotland side in Portugal.

International football is good for our players but it just so happens in this case it’s bad timing.

Hopefully all come through their encounters injury free and the core of the squad is fighting fit and ready for a mammoth derby battle.