Lennon put on spot as Old Firm renew rivalry
Published 18/09/2011 | 05:00
Neil Lennon confessed last night that he has a dilemma for today's trip to Ibrox for the first Old Firm derby of the season -- which player should be instructed to take a Celtic penalty if they are awarded one at the home of their ancient rivals.
When the teams last met -- in the seventh of last season's collisions between the Glasgow pair at the same venue on April 24 -- Georgios Samaras saw his attempt saved by Allan McGregor. Had the Greek forward scored Celtic would very likely have won the Scottish title. Instead, they had to endure a last-day finish in which Rangers edged the championship by a single point.
However, there is little in Celtic's recent record with penalties to suggest that Lennon is any nearer solving the difficulty of ensuring regular conversions from the spot.
Asked who will step up this afternoon, should the opportunity present itself, the Celtic manager replied: "We are not going to tell anyone -- we might make a substitution! We basically just nominate a player and if they fancy it they go and take it.
"Usually it's a striker -- they normally fancy their chances -- but Anthony Stokes has missed a couple and so has Gary Hooper. Georgios Samaras has missed a couple and Kris Commons has missed a couple.
"I would imagine the good technicians like Ki [Sung-yeung], [Joe] Ledley, [Charlie] Mulgrew, even Scott Brown would fancy it. I don't think there will be a shortage of players wanting to take that responsibility. Scott fancies himself as a penalty taker, although I have yet to see it myself. We will cross that bridge if we come to it. Ki would have taken one if there had been a penalty in Madrid."
Ally McCoist, meanwhile, disclosed that he had not and would not contact Walter Smith for advice prior to his first test in the fixture that goes a considerable way to determining the worth of a manager in the eyes of the fans.
"I won't be consulting Walter about how we should go into this game," said McCoist. "It's not as though I'm new to the fixture. I played in many Old Firm derbies and I've been through quite a few of them as Walter's assistant, so I know all about the enormity of the occasion. We often speak on the phone, but it will be our usual friendly chat. I have my own way of doing things."
McCoist is the record goalscorer against Celtic in modern times, with 24 goals in competitive fixtures. As Smith's assistant, he was involved in 22 Old Firm derbies, which Rangers edged with a record of 10 wins, four draws and eight defeats.
The timing of today's derby gave Motherwell the opportunity to move into second place yesterday, level on points with Rangers, but Stuart McCall's side were out of sorts in the first half against St Johnstone at Fir Park, where Tim Clancy attempted a clearance from Jamie Adams' header but got it horribly wrong to divert the ball beyond Darren Randolph.
An equally wayward pass by Steve Hammell gifted Francisco Sandaza the second, midway through the second half, and there was no way back for Motherwell when Liam Craig found the mark with a late rising drive.
At the other end of the table, Hibernian blew a chance to record their first league victory of the season after going 2-0 up against Dunfermline at East End Park. Colin Calderwood's beleaguered players took the lead against the run of play after 37 minutes when Ivan Sproule drove low into the corner of the net.
When Garry O'Connor saw a deflected drive find the mark six minutes after the break, Hibs might have supposed that their luck had turned. If so, they were disillusioned within two minutes as Ryan Thomson rolled the ball home, followed shortly afterwards by a tough break for Paul Hanlon when he deflected Jason Thomson's cross into his own net for Dunfermline's equaliser.
Meanwhile, O'Connor -- who was named by Channel 4's Dispatches as having served a ban while at Birmingham City for cocaine use -- pulled up his jersey when he scored his goal to reveal a T-shirt with the message: "Only God can judge me".
Aberdeen's prospects looked bleak against Kilmarnock when they fell behind to Paul Heffernan's header and a Dean Shiels shot, but the Dons hauled themselves level with strikes from Andrew Considine and Youl Mawene in a 2-2 draw.
At Tynecastle, Jamie Hamill's first-half penalty and a Lee Mair own goal saw off St Mirren, while Dundee United earned their first home win of the season with goals from Lauri Dalla Valle, Danny Swanson and Jon Daly at home to Caledonian Thistle, for whom Nick Ross scored in a 3-1 defeat that left them at the foot of the table.
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