| 11.5°C Dublin

Neil Lennon in dock over ref clash

Celtic manager Neil Lennon once again finds himself in a head-on collision with the disciplinary department of the Scottish Football Association.

The Armagh man, who was sent off during the interval of last Sunday's 3-2 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox, has been given until a week today to reply to a 'Notice of Complaint' issued by SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny.

Lennon has allegedly breached rule 203, which pertains to "misconduct at a match by dissent, the adoption of aggressive behaviour towards a match official and the repeated use of offensive, abusing and insulting language".

After criticising referee Calum Murray about his first-half performance in the tunnel, Lennon was ordered to the stands but watched the second half from the media room.

BIGGEST

"The biggest game of the season and I can't go out into the stand to watch my team, send down messages," said Lennon after the game.

"Security advised me not to go into the stand. I would have been happy to go out but I was told that, for my own safety, it wasn't a good idea. That sums this country up."

It emerged yesterday, however, that it was Celtic's own security people who advised Lennon not to take a seat in the directors' box. Rangers would have had no concerns for his well-being had he done so.

"Rangers Football Club can confirm that Neil Lennon was offered a seat in the directors' box to view the second half of the game," said a spokesman. "This offer was declined by Celtic's security staff and he was then accommodated in an alternative area."

Lennon claimed that he had not been abusive or used profanity while criticising Murray's display.

"I spoke quite quietly and coldly to the referee in the tunnel. I didn't swear and didn't point any fingers," he said.

"I told him I wasn't happy with his first-half performance. I was speaking to the match delegate after the game and their version of events are different from mine but I've got witnesses to back me up.

"Alan Thompson (coach) and our PR person were there, and a couple of other members of staff and players."

A principal hearing date has been set for Thursday, April 19.

Lunny has also asked Lennon to explain his critical comments about referee Willie Collum's decision not to award Celtic a penalty during their Scottish League Cup final defeat by unfancied Kilmarnock the previous weekend. Lennon described the referee's call on that occasion as "shocking" and "criminal".

Should Lennon be found guilty on either offence, he can expect to be fined at least £5,000. That penalty, suspended until the end of this season, was imposed on him in March of last year after he had accepted a four-game touchline ban following public criticism of referee Craig Thomson.

Celtic will appeal against the straight red card shown to full-back Cha Du Ri in the 29th minute of the Old Firm encounter. There will be no appeal against midfielder Victor Wanyama's dismissal for a two-footed challenge on Steven Whittaker.

Turning to matters on the pitch, Lennon described as "nonsense" accusations that his players are big-game bottlers, with defeat at Ibrox coming just a week after their shock defeat to Killie, which ended hopes of a domestic treble.

UPSET

Celtic's doubters will point to last season's League Cup final defeat by Rangers at Hampden and the upset at Inverness last May which ultimately cost them the championship.

However, Lennon, whose side are 18 points clear of the administration-hit Ibrox club, is adamant that when they do eventually win the title, they will be worthy champions.

"People can throw the accusation we don't win the big games all they want but it is a nonsense," he said. "Every game is a big game for us and these players have been fantastic.

"We'll have to wait a little bit longer (for a title party). But my players showed in the second half why they are going to be the champions. They've got pride and they've got quality and kept going right to the end."

Telegraph.co.uk