AS much as Celtic manager Neil Lennon acknowledged last week that the club’s supporters would probably sacrifice the Europa League this season if it meant securing a ninth league title in a row, 60,000 of those fans will be relishing the fact they are involved come Thursday night.

Of course, Celtic would much rather have been welcoming the big Champions League nights back to the East End of Glasgow this season, but as far as the continent’s consolation competition goes, the visit of Lazio will be as close to the real thing as you can get.

That isn’t lost on Ryan Christie, whose anticipation for the game has only been heightened by his frustration at being left kicking his heels in the stand for Saturday’s thumping win over Ross County through suspension after his red card in the defeat at Livingston.

The attacker is champing at the bit to not only make amends for that aberration, but to welcome one of European football’s genuine big guns to Celtic Park, and to show them what it is all about.

“Lazio is huge and it will be great to get back to Parkhead after the Cluj game at home,” Christie said.

“We were all buzzing with that win and this will hopefully be another big European night.

“It will be a great occasion but we also need to match it with a performance. I can’t wait for it and that goes for all the boys.

“It [was] so frustrating to still be serving the suspension. That’s the thing with a red card, it sticks with you for a few weeks. But I’ve kept training hard and been doing some extra running.

“It’s not [been] too long a break and I can hopefully be involved. I’ve kept myself ticking over and it would be good to get the chance to make an impact.

“Lazio are a huge name in European football. I am too young to remember when they won Serie A and were one of the best teams in Europe. But I remember Simone Inzaghi [the current Lazio manager] and his brother [Filippo] playing from when I was younger.

“For me Lazio are an Italian giant, probably just outside Juventus. It will be a brilliant experience to play against them, home and away.

“When the draw was made for the Europa League, you see the big names coming out and you realise how much quality there is in the competition.

“These are the games you look forward to as players and we will be looking to get a result.”

The match is not only of huge significance due to the stature of the opponent involved, but also for Celtic’s prospects of qualifying from Group E. An impressive start to the section from the Scottish champions has seen them pick up a draw against Stade Rennais in France - a match they justifiably felt they might have won – and a convincing home victory over Cluj, their conquerors in the Champions League qualifiers.

That has left Celtic top of the pile going into this game, and if they have designs on staying there, a victory on Thursday evening would be quite the statement of intent.

“It’s a massive match within the group and we have touched on that as a squad,” Christie said.

“In a tough section like this, you need to make the most of your home games and use that advantage. When we play at Celtic Park, we always look to get three points.

“The aim coming into the Europa League was to win the home games and then see what we can do away from home.

“We need to go and back that up now, and hopefully get a good result.”

Celtic’s form may be good so far in the group, but the unpredictability of the section to date means it would be a brave punter who placed any cash on the outcome of this match, or on the other clash on the night between Stade Rennais and Cluj.

That’s why Christie isn’t taking anything for granted despite Celtic being the only team yet to lose a match in the group, believing all four teams to be evenly matched.

“It’s a competitive group and we have already seen that anyone can beat anyone,” he said.

“Cluj were fourth seeds but we have found out how good a team they are. We did well to get a draw in Romania in the Champions League qualifiers.

“Then you see them beating Lazio at home, so they will be looking to pick up points.

“Lazio and Rennes are also good teams so it’s a tough group - but one we hope to do well in.

“We have four points from two games but we want to kick on from here and get another good result.”