Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Lennon throws down gauntlet

Gavin McCafferty

Neil Lennon has warned any visitors to Celtic Park they are in for a shock if they are expecting a vulnerable home side.

Celtic have drawn three consecutive home games ahead of a Parkhead double-header against St Johnstone today and Motherwell on Wednesday.

Lennon's side followed late collapses against Dundee United and Inverness with a late comeback of their own on Tuesday when Thomas Rogne headed home in the 85th minute to earn a 1-1 draw against Kilmarnock.

St Johnstone manager Derek McInnes will warn his players not to read too much into Celtic's stuttering form and Lennon has rejected any notion that they are lacking confidence. "On paper it might look that way but if you saw the game on Tuesday night, particularly the first half, then we could have been four or five up," he said. "We weren't and that's down to us and a lack of finishing, that's all that was needed.

"I don't know if Kilmarnock have played against a team who have pegged them back so much. If teams want to come here and think it's an easy ride, then good, let them think that, because it's far from it."

Nevertheless, Celtic's three consecutive draws could prove costly after they again missed the chance to move above league leaders Rangers, who head to Motherwell today two points ahead with a game in hand. After winning their first eight SPL matches of the season, Celtic have won just two of the subsequent seven, a run which started with a home defeat by Rangers.

Celtic have lost Shaun Maloney and Gary Hooper for long spells after both suffered ankle injuries in the last two games and will see Ki Sung-yueng and Cha Du-ri depart for South Korea's Asian Cup campaign after the visit of St Johnstone.

But Lennon is optimistic they can turn the indifferent sequence of results around with Scott Brown, James Forrest and Beram Kayal all coming back to fitness.

"It's always a worry, it was an opportunity lost the other night, but we're not even halfway through the season so I don't feel the need to panic," he said. "If we play like that for the remainder of the season then I'll be delighted because I think we'll win a lot more games playing that way.

"Ki was outstanding; I know we are going to miss him for three or four weeks. Forrest, considering he has been out for three months, was excellent for a long period of time, he tired a little bit.

"We've got Brown back, we've got Kayal back. There is a lot to be positive about."

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