Friday 19 January 2018

Lennon defends Celtic's 'exuberant' fans after London friendly flare-up

Brentford  1 Celtic 2

A safety officer removes a smoke bomb from the pitch during a pre season friendly match between Brentford and Celtic at Griffin Park
A safety officer removes a smoke bomb from the pitch during a pre season friendly match between Brentford and Celtic at Griffin Park

Ben Riley-Smith

NEIL LENNON has defended the behaviour of Celtic supporters ahead of tomorrow's Champions League clash against Cliftonville after hundreds of fans invaded the pitch and taunted rivals at a friendly match in London.

Stewards policing the game between Celtic and League One side Brentford were forced to clear green flares thrown onto the pitch during play and tackle fans who ran out onto the grass.

The atmosphere threatened to turn ugly after the final whistle as hundreds of Celtic supporters broke past a police line to celebrate their side's victory.

At one point a handful of fans appeared to try and break the crossbar of a goal, while some Brentford supporters had to be held back by police from joining the commotion.

Two arrests were made at the match according to the Metropolitan Police – one for going on the pitch and another for alleged possession of Class A drugs.

Lennon, who had to be escorted off the field at a jog, played down the incident after Saturday's match. "The Celtic fans were a little over-exuberant – the heat, a few beers. But it was a carnival atmosphere," he said.

"I would like them to maybe leave the flares out. But they were in good voice today and hopefully everyone's gone home in a good mood."

Tomorrow Celtic will look to finish off Cliftonville in the second leg of their Champions League qualification tie at Celtic Park.

They go into the match with a 3-0 lead after last week's comfortable victory in Belfast, but Lennon is urging his player to take nothing for granted.

Asked how he would approach the match, Lennon said: "The same way we'll approach the first leg. We'll play with the same intensity.

"We're still building up for the start of the season. We've got games coming up so it's important we maintain our level of consistency and not go into the game thinking we're already there."

The Celtic manager, who has told Nottingham Forest that their reported £1.5m bid for Kelvin Wilson is nowhere near the asking price, rested most of the first team squad on Saturday as the Scottish champions took on Brentford in the scorching sun of south-west London.

The visitors were made to sweat early on when the League One side took a surprise lead after Adam Forshaw chipped over the advancing Lukasz Zaluska.

But Celtic levelled the scores on the half-hour mark when new signing Amido Balde used his strength to hold off two defenders when the ball came to him in the box and tucked it under the 'keeper.

Celtic soon had a second after half-time when young Callum McGregor arrived late into the box and met a cutback with a neat curling finish inside the far post.

Pressure

Despite increasing late pressure from Brentford, not least from man of the match Forshaw, Celtic hung on for the win.

It was at the final whistle that the well-spirited competition of the match threatened to turn sour as Celtic fans took to the pitch in celebration. Stewards and policemen hurried to keep the two sets of fans apart as Brentford supporters retaliated with chants of 'England' and 'God Save the Queen.' While some fans were restrained and led away there were no apparent incidents of violence.

Gary Hooper, meanwhile, remains in talks with QPR about a proposed £5m move, but is believed to be trying to get a deal with a Premier League club, most likely West Ham or Norwich.

Lennon added: "There has been a bid in, but negotiations are ongoing. We would still like to keep the player.

"I don't know if the deal will go through or not. If it doesn't, then I'll be delighted because we will still have a very good player in the squad." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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