Noel Whelan has blasted Neil Lennon for restoring Vasilis Barkas to the Celtic starting XI ahead of Saturday’s clash against Rangers. 

The former Aberdeen and Leeds United striker, speaking exclusively to Football Insider, has insisted he would have given young goalkeeper Conor Hazard, who kept three consecutive clean sheets in the league, a run of games instead.

As quoted by BT, Lennon confirmed he would keep the 26-year-old between the sticks at Ibrox after he brought the Greece international back into the starting XI against Dundee United.

Barkas, who joined Celtic from AEK Athens for £5million last summer, came under heavy fire for his performances and was dropped in favour of Scott Bain and then Hazard.

Whelan has admitted he cannot understand why Lennon would take a confident keeper out of the side to bring in a shot-stopper lacking in confidence for one of the Bhoys’ biggest games of the season.

Whelan told Football Insider: “It’s one of these, you’re talking about a crucial part of the field as well, the goalkeeper. You think Hazard has done so well, on the back of three clean sheets, I’m not sure how you can actually change a side like that.

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“It’s a lot of pressure on the goalkeeper to come in for this game, absolutely. He was part of that Celtic time this season where everything was going wrong for them. Also, you look at the confidence, is he confident enough to come into this sort of game as well?

“The massive pressure is going to be on them, when he’s part of the team that has been conceding goals – terrible goals at times as well – so I don’t know about that one. I would have kept it the same quite frankly.

“Neil Lennon obviously feels he wants more experience in that department against Rangers so there’s no doubt about it, I think they will be worked, a lot more than they have been worked against other sides so look, it’s a risk, but we’ll have to see if it pays off.”

Lennon told BT: “We have big games coming up and I want Vasilis to play in them. He has come in as number one and I want him to play. I want to go back to experience.

“Vasilis hasn’t shown us what he’s all about but he’s capable of doing that. So I thought it was important to give him a game before the weekend.”

In other news, Frank McAvennie has tipped Celtic duo to run rings around Rangers ace on Saturday.