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Celts won't underestimate Cliftonville – Lennon


Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

NEIL LENNON couldn't have been happier when Celtic's Champions League draw paired them with Cliftonville.

On every level the draw was perfect, with the man from Lurgan looking forward to leading Celtic into their first ever competitive match in Ulster.

Once the fine details of the fixtures are ironed out Lennon can plan ahead, knowing that his side have a straightforward route into the third qualifying round as they inch closer to the money-spinning group stage they graced last season.

"It's a great draw – a great draw for Cliftonville as well I would imagine," the Celtic boss admitted. "It will create a lot of interest back in Belfast but I am very wary of the tie. I know Gerard Lawlor, the chairman, very well and I know he will be absolutely delighted with the draw.

"We have three ties this year and our short-term priority will be to qualify for the group stages, which would mean a lot to everyone associated with the club. I'm not expecting us to have the same impact as last season but you just never know.

"Cliftonville had a brilliant season last year, domestically they won the league surprisingly comfortably in the end and they play good football.

"They have a couple of decent younger players – I know Liam Boyce well as he was here on trial before he went Werder Bremen, and they have a couple of nice footballers.

"They will be very well-motivated.

"It will mean a lot to the supporters and to the players personally. We are certainly not going to underestimate Cliftonville, that's for sure."

Celtic returned to pre-season training last Thursday and will step up their preparations next month when they head to a training camp in Germany.

Efe Ambrose and Tom Rogic have played international matches in the last week with Lennon giving his multi-national squad a staggered return to action following international commitments that extended well into June.

Looking at the month ahead the Celtic boss admitted: "The players are still finding their feet but with the close season being as short as it has been, the majority of the them have come back in good condition."