NEIL LENNON has hit out at critics of Scottish football and warned them not to underestimate Celtic ahead of tonight's Champions League first-leg showdown with Juventus.
His SPL champions beat the odds to reach the knockout stages of Europe's premier competition, and Lennon believes his players should be afforded more respect for how they have performed in getting this far.
He thinks that observers in England have belatedly started to take his team more seriously, but has been angered by the depiction of his team's style of play.
"People have talked down the SPL but it's a cheap shot, borne out of ignorance," he said.
"We have been underestimated as a sort of physical, up-and-at-'em, British-type team, which is exactly what we're not. We've got plenty of skilful, technical players who, on a big pitch, against quality opposition, will perform.
"Yes, we are 18 points clear at the top of our league, but there are teams clear at the top of the league in Spain, Germany and England. We were sort of seen as a novelty, but now people see us as a pretty serious club with a pretty serious team."
Lennon (left) refused to get dragged into discussions about the decision of his club's troubled rivals, Rangers, to offer Juventus their training facilities ahead of the fixture. Instead, he chose to concentrate on the positives, and the opportunity to qualify for the quarter-finals.
He faces an anxious wait on the fitness of Georgios Samaras, who is crucial to how they play in Europe. The Armagh native reckons the Greek attacker's chances of figuring are 60-40 but if it is deemed too much of a risk then he will rest him with a view to the second leg in Turin.
The 41-year-old suggested he could spring a tactical surprise against a Juventus side who are a different proposition to the Barcelona team that Celtic excelled against in the group stages. "I'm thinking about it," he said. "They get into their back five very quickly and have three midfielders in front of them. It's very difficult to play through them; it's hard to take a team like Juve by surprise."