Sport Soccer

Sunday 18 February 2018

Lennon hails 'tired' players as Bhoys avoid Euro hangover

Celtic 1 Hearts 0

Roddy Forsyth

A first league goal this season for Georgios Samaras capped a productive week in which his two contributions gave Celtic their first victory away from home in the Champions League group stages and put them two points clear of Hibernian -- with a game in hand -- in the Scottish Premier League.

The Greek striker drove a shot through the legs of Peter Enckelman after 34 minutes for the only goal of the contest, and he would have had a double, but for the post stopping another effort.

As it is, Samaras is now Celtic's top scorer with four goals and gives the impression that he is only beginning to hit a stride which will yield a good many more before the campaign is done.

As for the rest of the team, given that Joe Ledley, Beram Kayal and James Forrest had all been on the bench against Spartak in Moscow, there was a case for Neil Lennon to give them a start, especially since the manager was intent on avoiding the post-European dip that had been in evidence after previous outings in the Champions League.

In the event, they all did play, although only Forrest got the initial nod -- he replaced Scott Brown, who is being employed sparingly because of a persistent hip injury.


Hearts 'keeper Jamie MacDonald was forced off after a collision with Charlie Mulgrew that left him unconscious for 20 minutes, and his replacement Enckelman allowed Samaras' shot to go through him in a fashion that annoys goalkeeping coaches as Celtic edged their win without causing their manager discomfort.

"Champions League games are hugely demanding, both mentally and physically, with all the travelling involved," said Lennon.

"We used a lot of energy in the game in Moscow and maybe in hindsight I could have changed the team a little more, but I didn't want to -- I wanted to keep the momentum going.

"The majority of players played quite well. There was just a little bit of tiredness towards the end and I totally understand that. Now some of them will get a rest and others will be away with their countries."

Not Kris Commons, despite his lively form, although Lennon suggested that there was compensation for the player in Craig Levein's decision to leave him out of Scotland's schedule.

"He's disappointed, yeah," said Lennon. "On the flip side of that his wife is heavily pregnant and he has two young kids as well so he might be grateful he doesn't have to spend two weeks away in hotels and can spend more time with his family." (Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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