Sport Soccer

Sunday 26 March 2017

Lennon urges Hoops to lift away-day blues and make most of Euro reprieve

Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon has urged his Celtic players to make the most of their Europa League reprieve when they take on Atletico Madrid in the Vicente Calderon stadium tonight.

The Hoops lost 3-1 on aggregate in their play-off tie against Sion, but were reinstated when UEFA ruled that the Swiss club had used five ineligible players over the two games.

Celtic replaced Sion in a group which also includes Udinese and Rennes and Lennon is looking for his side -- who will be without Scott Brown and Anthony Stokes through injury -- to grasp this opportunity.

"It means a lot to myself, the backroom staff and the players to be in this competition and I think it means a lot to the supporters as well," said Lennon. "It is a fantastic group and all we are looking for from the players is to do themselves justice.

"We believe we have a very talented group of players who can develop into a very good team if we can keep them all together and this will be part of their development.

"But I don't want them to see it as a learning curve, I want them to play strong and try to get a positive result and go forward from there.

Marker

"Qualifying would be nice, but it is a top-quality group and I'm not looking that far ahead. Tomorrow will be a good marker for us.

"But I'm hoping I can qualify and if we can maintain our home form that we have shown over the years then we have a very good chance. Obviously our away form has to improve and if we can pick up some points away from home, who knows?"

Atletico have taken just one point from their opening two games in La Liga, but Lennon expects them to be tough opponents.

"They have real quality and strength in depth," he said. "They won this competition not too long ago, so their pedigree is up there with any of the clubs in Europe. It's going to be a big jump in quality from what we are used to in the SPL, but these are the games we want to play in."

Hoops' skipper Brown missed the win over Motherwell at the weekend with an ongoing ankle complaint, while Stokes injured his thigh in training. Centre-back Daniel Majstorovic is suspended after being sent off in the second-leg game against Sion and new signing Badr El-Kaddouri, on loan from Dynamo Kiev, is ineligible.

Lennon is confident that Brown will be back for Sunday's Old Firm clash at Ibrox, saying: "He has a good chance of playing on Sunday.

"It is easier to pick the team because the squad is minimised.

"Obviously, we have an eye on Sunday. However, we want to play a strong team because it is a great opportunity for us."

Atletico Madrid v Celtic,

Live, Setanta Ireland, 8.05

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