Sport Soccer

Sunday 22 April 2018

Lennon would be huge loss -- Mjallby

Roddy Forsyth

There may be only one Neil Lennon, as the Celtic faithful loudly proclaim, but there was no Lennon at all at the media preview for tomorrow's final league fixture at home to Motherwell.

That was not a surprise, however, after the shocking events at Tynecastle in midweek, when the manager was assaulted by a Hearts fan who jumped out of the stand behind the Celtic dugout.

When Lennon served a suspension from the technical area earlier in the season, he chose to let the team be the story rather than him.

Tomorrow's closing chapter of a turbulent league season will be either one of rapture for Celtic -- should they beat Motherwell and Rangers stumble at Kilmarnock -- or of an agonisingly close brush with triumph in Lennon's first full season in charge.

His assistant Johan Mjallby once again took charge of proceedings yesterday and was inevitably pressed for an opinion on why his manager was the target for what seems to be an unrelenting torrent of vitriol.

"I don't know why some people don't like Neil. You're asking the wrong man because I like the man!" said the Swede.

"We work well together and we've been good friends for a long time. He's a fighter and a winner in all areas of life. That seems to upset some people in a way.

"He's done a great job in his first year in charge. He's shown he's capable of becoming a very good manager. It would be a shame if he didn't continue being a manager but I'm quite sure he's raring to go on and continue in this profession.

"I don't know why Neil is singled out. Maybe it's because he's very passionate about his players, his team and himself. He's a proud person.

"He's quite animated with the way he does his business. The good thing for us working with him is he's very good with the players and has a good relationship with them. Wherever he is in the future, he will always have this great relationship with players and that can take him a long way.

"I don't know if he will still be here in a few years' time but there are three different alternatives: he stays here as manager, or he's a manager somewhere else, or he'll no longer be in management.

"But I'm sure he wants to be here. It would be a loss to management if he stopped. We've only been here a year and a bit but he's shown in that time he's got a real chance of becoming a really good manager."

In respect of tomorrow's proceedings, there is little Lennon and his management team can do other than send their players out to achieve a victory and hope that they hear, by virtue of an eruption from the stands, that Rangers have run into trouble in Ayrshire.

The most quoted parallels are the last-day finishes in 2003, when Celtic won at Kilmarnock but were edged out of the title on goal difference because of Rangers' home victory over Dunfermline, and 2005 when the Parkhead side were in pole position and winning at Motherwell, only to be scuppered by two late goals by Scott McDonald.

Mjallby, though, has a more encouraging back story to draw upon.

"The week before I signed for Celtic, I won the championship in Sweden from the same position, playing for AIK against Orgryt," he said. "We let the advantage slip before the final game of the season and Helsingborg were one point ahead of us.

"Kilmarnock have done really well this season, while that year the team Helsingborg were playing -- BJ Hacken -- had already been relegated. We thought it wasn't going to be too hard for Helsingborg to go there and win.

"So I'm not too sure that myself and the other players believed Hacken could spring a surprise. We were only focused on ourselves, making sure that if a surprise happened, we would win our game, anyway. We did, but we were very nervous, didn't play that well and won it 1-0.

"I don't think it's going to be hard at all to fire the players up to play against Motherwell, because already on Wednesday we spoke about belief and making sure we do our bit, do the things that we can.

favourites

"An early goal would help, definitely it would help, but maybe if you get an early goal, even two, I still think you have to say Rangers are strong favourites to win the championship.

"Maybe they're going to get a wee bit nervous if we score early doors, but it doesn't matter how we play, in a way, or how many goals we score -- because goal difference isn't going to be an issue.

"What matters is that we get the win because it's all we can do now."

When Lennon's players still had the advantage of a game in hand, Rangers fans feared that Motherwell -- who play Celtic in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park next Saturday -- would concentrate their resources on that game.

Motherwell manager Stuart McCall confirmed that he intends to do exactly that.

"Everyone wants to be involved in the cup final so if anyone is struggling, we know about it now," he said.

"We've only got so many in the squad we can rest. There will be a good sprinkling of first-team players playing, that's for sure and we'll look to win the game." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Celtic v Motherwell (red button), Kilmarnock v Rangers,

Live, Sky Sports 4 , 12.30

Irish Independent

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