Sunday 28 May 2017

Lennon seeks to inspirce Old Firm debutants

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has told his Old Firm debutants the derby matches can make or break their Parkhead careers.

Six of the players who started in Celtic's 2-1 victory over Dundee United have never played in a Glasgow derby before.

Rangers go into Sunday's clash at Celtic Park with far more know-how of the fixture, with 10 of the players who started in the 4-1 win over Motherwell having played in several of the encounters.

Lennon appreciates there is only so much knowledge he can impart to his summer signings but he has stressed the importance of the occasions.

"We have to try and explain to the players who are making their debuts what it is like but you can't replicate that until they experience it themselves," Lennon told the Celtic View.

"I think it's a game that defines players more than anyone, games that hold big stakes like this can have a big effect on how the fans look at them."

The former Celtic captain allowed himself a moment of quiet reflection in the dugout after his Old Firm debut as manager, a 2-1 victory at Parkhead in May.

Lennon, then interim manager, knew it might have been his one and only experience but he admitted he got little enjoyment out of the game itself.

He added: "They are always the best games in the world when you win them and the worst when you lose.

"They are great occasions and they're very exciting for the fans but from this side of the fence, as manager now, it's a totally different experience altogether.

"You can't enjoy it until it's over, and the build-up alone is different.

"People have been asking me about this game for three or four weeks. You try and avoid those questions then but now I can allow my focus to be on this game."

With both sides having won their opening eight Clydesdale Bank Premier League games, Sunday's match is one of the most eagerly-anticipated opening Old Firm matches for years, but Lennon warned not to read too much into the outcome.

He said: "It adds a little bit more significance to the game as neither team will want to relinquish that 100% record.

"Something's going to give - but I don't think there's much between the teams. We have both shown a level of consistency and a good mentality.

"I'm sure it will be tight, and it's fair to say both sets of fans will be looking forward to it.

"But it's just one game, and I don't think it will have any bearing on which way the league is going to go. It will just give a psychological edge for a while."

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