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Lennon's Celts well drilled to beat the best

IT IS saying something that Neil Lennon has managed to improve his reputation as a manager based in what can only be described as a European backwater league, the SPL.

Last night, his players did as they have done since the start of this Champions League campaign and competed without fear. He takes all the credit for that.

They did it two weeks ago at the Camp Nou and in Parkhead, fought Barcelona for every ball, every pass and every inch. It was an object lesson in an old Bhoy's motto: 'fail to prepare, prepare to fail'.

Lennon prepared his team brilliantly for this game and rather than allow them to wallow in the small town mentality which encourages heroic failure after what was a desperately unlucky defeat in Barcelona, he found a way to make his players believe they were holding a glass half-full.

But he also worked out that there might be some profit in telling the gifted Victor Wanyama to attack the back post from a set-piece against a much reduced Barcelona defence.

Wanyama was fantastic all night and it can't be long before someone with a big cheque book sits in front of Dermot Desmond with an offer for the 21-year-old Kenyan. But maybe not for a while yet. Celtic are now within sight of the knock-out stage and a £20m honey pot which would keep the owner happy and maybe even allow Lennon to add a few more names to his eclectically sourced squad.

He was remarkably calm after the game and spoke quietly about the achievement on the night Paradise celebrated 125 years of Celtic and 60,000 fans blew the roof off. Once Celtic fans had stopped holding their sides while they watched Rangers disintegrate in front of their eyes during the summer, they soon realised that a season without the mortal foe is hollow and unfulfilling.

The Champions League was always going to fill an emotional gap but nobody could have expected this. This win lifted Celtic far above petty domestic rivalries and will cause debate across the world. Have Barca peaked? There is a way to beat Barcelona but knowing it and actually doing it are two entirely different things. Mourinho's Inter and Abramovich's Chelsea did it and now Celtic.

In all the praise flying around after a fraught final few minutes of injury time finally wound down and Lennon had pulled off the unthinkable, one aspect of Celtic's performances in the competition so far was missed.

Lennon must have worked them very, very hard in pre-season because this is one seriously fit football team.

Even the best players look ragged at the end of 90 minutes of relentless negative pressure but Celtic's tackles remained crisp, their discipline and concentration absolute.

No yellow cards against Barcelona. Almost hard to believe and maybe the statistic which will be remembered most of all in years to come.

Lennon has had some fiery and dangerous moments during his time as a Celtic player and manager and some have doubted him because of that.

But he has knitted together a committed and resourceful team from odds and ends and produced one of the wins of the decade.

And Barcelona? Maybe all this talk about Pep Guardiola and his courtship by Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United and who knows how many rich Russian oligarchs and oil barons is very premature. Maybe Barcelona need their man back where he belongs. And could he say no if they asked?


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