IF any Celtic players thought the win over Lazio that secured their qualification for the knockout stages of the Europa League meant it was job done, they will soon have cause to think again.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has no intention of allowing his men to take their foot off the gas when Group E’s bottom side come calling on Thursday evening, vowing to send out his strongest team as he looks to get a win over Stade Rennais that could ensure the Scots finish top of the pile.

With 10 matches between now and the end of the year, the game against the struggling French side – who, as they cannot qualify, are likely to send a young squad to Glasgow – may seem a natural juncture to remove some of his regulars from the starting line-up. But the Celtic boss is of a different view.

“I can’t do that,” Lennon said. It’s a European night at home and there’s still work to do in the group. “I want to get it done. And then we can take another look at it. But if we take our eye off the ball we could get done. And psychologically we don’t want that either.

“I think it’s important we don’t take our foot off the gas. We want to finish top because in theory that might help you get a more favourable draw. Hopefully Lazio take points off Cluj meaning a win on Thursday guarantees us top spot with a game to spare. That would then give me the luxury of maybe using the squad in Romania.

“But we can’t look too far ahead. We want to win on Thursday so we’re going to go strong.”

As well as the favourable draw that comes with finishing in top spot, comes the kudos of being the first Celtic side to finish top of a European group section.

“Well, if there’s an extra incentive then you would look for that as motivation,” said Lennon. “I would like to see us take maximum points from the home games. That would be a good marker for going into the new year.”

Lennon’s decision to field his strongest 11 on Thursday night is purely for the good of Celtic, and nothing to do with the rather pointed question about sporting integrity that came from one Italian journalist in the aftermath of their win in Rome.

Considering Lazio had fielded a weakened team in most of their group stage games to date, with Ciro Immobile being rested, for instance, Lennon did well to maintain his composure.

“That was a bit rich coming from them!” he said. “I tried to be as diplomatic as I could about that one. But we will do what’s best for Celtic.”

No matter the Stade Rennais side that shows up this week, Lennon is more than confident his men have enough to take care of them, with the creditable draw they earned in Rennes to kick off the group still a source of some consternation for Lennon.

“We should have won over there,” he said. “I wasn’t surprised by how well we did over there, but I was pleased with how comfortable we looked. And then [I was] really disappointed that we were a goal down at half-time.

“At half-time I said to them, ‘are you going to play well and lose? Or are you going to force the issue?’ And they did that very well in the second half.

“We were at least good value for the draw as at that time they were bang in form. Ten days earlier they had beaten PSG. But we looked comfortable in that environment and it’s really given us a springboard for the group.

“They started the season well, but they seem to be a bit inconsistent with their league performances. And in the Europa League they’ve been surprisingly a bit flat. So, I don’t know what their coach will be thinking.

“We’ve heard some whispers that he might look to bring over a younger team, but we can’t look too much into that. We want to finish our home games with maximum points.”

Meanwhile, Lennon was pleased to get the Scotland contingent back last week in unusually fine fettle following an international break, and there was no one with a bigger spring in his step than Greg Taylor, with the lesser-seen full-back getting two full games under his belt with his country in the space of a few days.

“Everyone says we’ve got players going away all the time with Scotland, but the flip side is that it’s been really good for Greg,” he said. “He’s fully match-fit and coming back to us with a lot of games coming up that he can make a contribution in. So, I’m delighted for him.

“It will be difficult for him with (Kieran) Tierney and (Andy) Robertson still to come back into the Scotland fold. But he’s shown a great attitude.”