Sport Soccer

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Cup vital for Celtic's campaign – Lennon

Neil Lennon admits Celtic's 2-1 Scottish Cup quarter-final win over St Mirren in Paisley on Saturday was required to keep the Hoops' season "competitive".

The Parkhead men are 16 points clear of Motherwell at the top of the Scottish Premier League with almost no chance of them being caught.

Conversely, Celtic's Champions League hopes appear to be over as they travel to Italy tomorrow for the second leg of their last-16 clash with Juventus the following night, looking to recover a 3-0 deficit from the first leg but odds-on to exit the tournament.

With those two scenarios in mind, Lennon was pleased to see his side take one step closer to taking part in a showpiece Hampden final.

"There were some great performances yesterday," he said. "Psychologically, it gives us a huge lift going into Wednesday and it keeps our season competitive as well.

"If we had lost that would have been the season over competitively and I want them to keep going, I don't want this season to fritter out. So we have kept it very much alive.

"We have a semi-final to look forward to, we have a championship to win and a big game on Wednesday, so it's all guns blazing."

The champions responded well following last Wednesday's 2-1 SPL defeat against Motherwell at Fir Park which had enraged Lennon.

Mistake

Stand-in Hoops skipper Joe Ledley opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a header from a James Forrest cross, before a mistake by Parkhead left-back Emilio Izaguirre in the 13th minute allowed Buddies striker Esmael Goncalves to level.

However, striker Anthony Stokes restored Celtic's lead in the 21st minute with a close-range header to ultimately book the visitors a place in today's draw at Hampden.

The home side played their part in what was at times a frenetic encounter but never really looked like replicating their League Cup semi-final win over the Hoops at Hampden at the end of January.

Meanwhile, Leigh Griffiths was the Hibernian hero again after his hat-trick against Kilmarnock sent the Leith men bouncing happily into the semi-finals.

In a pulsating match at Rugby Park, Griffiths opened the scoring in the 15th minute only for James Dayton to equalise.

Matt Done restored the lead for Pat Fenlon's men in the 39th minute before Paul Heffernan slammed in a penalty to level again.

But Griffiths was not to be denied as he notched twice more, the second from the spot, with Killie ending the match with 10 men after defender Ross Barbour was sent off late on for a tug on the on-loan Wolves player at the edge of the box.

Hibs, who famously have not won the tournament since 1902, will join Celtic, Dundee United and First Division Falkirk in the draw.

Irish Independent

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