Saturday 24 February 2018

Lennon cool in eye of storm

Roddy Forsyth

IT'S far from certain that Celtic will be playing Atletico Madrid in their opening Europa League group fixture in the Spanish capital next Thursday, but, for now, manager Neil Lennon is more concerned with today's SPL clash with in-form Motherwell.

Celtic were beaten 3-1 on aggregate by the Swiss club Sion in the play-offs but were reinstated by UEFA, who deemed five of Sion's players to be ineligible due to a signing ban imposed on the club by FIFA.

Sion's appeal will be heard next Tuesday by the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has the power to overturn UEFA's decision.

And Sion's outspoken president, Christian Constantin, has vowed to take on the governing body in the civil courts if necessary, although his first attempt to do that failed on Thursday.

Lennon said: "I can understand where Sion are coming from and their point of view, but we have been told we are in the competition and until we are told otherwise, we will carry on preparing for that game."

Like every other club manager, Lennon had been afforded the chance of a break because of the Euro 2012 international qualifiers, but in his case the respite was punctuated by the court case that saw an acquittal on the assault charge of a man who ran from the stand at Tynecastle to assail him when Celtic played there on May 11.

At the conclusion of the trial Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, said of Lennon: "We will have to help rebuild him after another body blow."

Lennon looked cheerful enough when he met the media to discuss this afternoon's visit of Motherwell, but he did allude to the effect of the verdict at Edinburgh Sheriff Court when he said: "It was a bit of a disappointing outcome, but we move on from that.

"I don't make the laws and it is an episode in my life that I would rather not talk about now. I would rather move on and talk about football."

In that respect, much of the talk was unsurprisingly about the meeting with Atletico in a section that also includes Rennes and Udinese.

"It's a brilliant group; it's almost Champions League quality," said Lennon. "We were hoping to get out to see them play Valencia this weekend, but time constraints were too tight. It's on TV so we'll try and dissect it as much as we can.

"I played there with Leicester and it's a great arena with a good atmosphere. By all accounts the pitch is perfect so it's a game our players should really look forward to.


"We went a goal up in Madrid, Juninho equalised and then they got a penalty with about five minutes to go so we lost that one -- and the return 2-0.

"There was a whole big hoo-haa at the time over the referee -- some things never change! Martin O'Neill made a complaint to UEFA and the guy got marked down.

"We'd rather be in the competition than not, but ultimately the league is the priority. It's a huge week for the players; up against Motherwell, who are doing very well, hopefully Atletico Madrid and then Rangers. It's fantastic."

Celtic include their two new signings, Mohamed Bangura and Badr el Kaddouri, in today's squad.

However, they must plan without Cha Du-ri, who is likely to be out of action for up to four weeks after picking up a hamstring injury on international duty with South Korea. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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