Monday 22 January 2018

Neil Lennon avoids UEFA wrath after outburst

Neil Lennon will not face a UEFA charge for calling referee Alberto Mallenco "pro Juventus" in the immediate aftermath of Celtic's defeat in Tuesday night's Champions League first-leg tie.

The manager's anger was palpable following a 3-0 loss that leaves his side's heroic campaign in the competition on the brink of collapse.

Mallenco had controversially chosen to ignore the endless shirt-pulling and grappling that took place every time Celtic had a corner or a set-piece.

Such goal-scoring opportunities were key to the home side's attempt to pull off another shock as 40pc of their Champions League goals this season have come from headers. That they were denied infuriated Lennon.

"I thought he was poor," he said of the referee. "I thought he was very pro-Juventus. I was disappointed with his performance to say the least. Our players were being fouled at every occasion. The referee is looking at it. They were putting their arms around our players, blocking their runs, trying to pull them down.

"The game must be different in Spain and in Italy from what it is in Britain because you cannot do that in the penalty box because it is a penalty."

Uefa, however, do not feel there is a case for the 41-year-old to answer and that will at least offer some comfort.

Although Celtic's players were blatantly stopped from making forward runs at corners, it was also what happened on the goal-line at dead-ball kicks that stirred controversy.


In the first half, Juventus' Stephan Lichtsteiner was booked along with Gary Hooper for his attempt to move the Celtic forward away from goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

Celtic's Kris Commons revealed that Mallenco had then threatened to penalise Juventus if it continued.

"He said if they did it again we would get a penalty," said the midfielder.

"The whole idea of the official behind the line was to look out for this kind of stuff, and if he can't identify when people are being hauled, man-handled or wrestled to the floor, I don't think he should be in a job."

But Mallenco took no further action and afterwards Lichtsteiner was unrepentant. "It's normal," said the Juventus defender. "I think it is part of football and they score more than 40pc of their goals in the Champions League from free-kicks, and they look to block the goalkeeper. It was my role today to keep them away from Buffon."

Lichtsteiner was asked if he thought Celtic should have had a penalty, as Lennon had later claimed.

"A penalty for what?" he said. "It is more a foul from them than from me because if you attack the goalkeeper it is a foul."

That view was echoed by Kelvin Wilson, the Celtic centre-half.

"I think that's what Italian defenders are renowned for, making sure they get hold of you," he said. "I'm a defender myself so I'm not going to say bad things about it. It's good defending in my eyes.

Celtic midfielder Kris Commons claims team-mate Efe Ambrose has to take responsibility for his performance in the defeat.

The Nigeria defender only arrived back in Glasgow on the morning of the match after helping his country to Africa Cup of Nations glory on Sunday night. But Lennon included him in the starting line-up in a gamble that backfired spectacularly.

Ambrose gifted Alessandro Matri an early goal, missed Celtic's best chance when he sent a free header straight at Gianluigi Buffon from six yards,and lost possession to allow Mirko Vucinic to claim a late third.

Lennon must be rueing his decision to pick Ambrose, but Commons believes the player is responsible.

"Look, the manager picked him. The manager pulled him to one side and asked him if he was feeling okay. He said he was feeling brilliant.

"If he wasn't feeling okay then he should have said so. If he felt good then he should have put in a better performance."

Irish Independent

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