Monday 22 January 2018

SPL is still our priority, insists Celtic boss Neil Lennon

Ronnie Esplin

NEIL LENNON'S next challenge as Celtic boss is to change the perception that Champions League success this season has rendered the Hoops' Clydesdale Bank Premier League campaign "mundane".

Celtic will discover next Thursday who they will face in the last 16 of Europe's elite club competition after qualifying out of Group G along with winners Barcelona.

Buoyed by that achievement, they stretched three points clear of Inverness at the top of the SPL last week with an impressive 3-1 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.

However, that was in stark contrast to previous performances on the domestic front, especially in some of the matches which have been played in front of a less than packed Celtic Park.

Indeed, against St Mirren on Saturday, the champions will be looking for their first home league win since the beginning of October when they beat Hearts 1-0.

With European football on the backburner until February, Lennon wants his side to start providing the Parkhead fans with some exciting SPL fare.

"We have achieved something very special and now we can concentrate on SPL duties," he said.

"Everyone thinks it is pretty mundane compared to the Champions League but I wouldn't say mundane, I think it is our priority and it is important that we start to play like the champions we are, consistently in the league.

"You can look for all sorts of reasons and excuses for it (the home form), but it is something that we need to remedy and we want to remedy.

"Our away form has been fantastic but sometimes the atmosphere at home, particularly after the European games, is obviously flatter.

"The weight of expectation and the heavy load of games plays its part in that, but we have to start playing better at home.

"Up until Kilmarnock had beaten us, we hadn't lost at home for over a year so I want that back as quickly as possible."

The Northern Irishman may have trouble convincing Hoops fans that the Buddies offer a serious challenge.

Danny Lennon's side have not scored a goal against Celtic since he took over as Saints boss in 2010 and were beaten 5-0 in Paisley in October.

However, Hoops boss Lennon is mindful that Kilmarnock's 2-0 win at Parkhead the following week was Killie's first triumph in Glasgow since 1955 and dismissed the notion that he is already anticipating three points.

"You never think that," he said. "Kilmarnock hadn't won here since 1955, so records are there to be broken. So I wouldn't look too much into that (Danny's record against Celtic).

"I think St Mirren are a good model for a lot of SPL clubs. While results haven't been great, the product on the pitch has been good to watch.

"Danny is a progressive manager, he is trying to play the game the right way, he's changed the style of play and I think they are one of the better teams to watch in the SPL. And they are dangerous.

"For some reason, over the last five or six games things have gone our way but I keep saying it, records are there to be broken and we will take the game as seriously as any other game.

"Danny will have his team very motivated and he might come up with something a little bit different because things haven't gone for them in the past.

"And there have been games which have been very close. Last year we won 2-0 at St Mirren Park but that game could have gone either way.

"But if we can replicate the form of our last fixture against St Mirren we should be okay."

Lennon will pursue his interest in USA forward Juan Agudelo but will not be signing Frank Acheampong.

Both players spent time training with the Celtic squad at Lennoxtown in recent weeks.

Acheampong, 19, from Ghana, is currently with Thai Premier League side Buriram United while Agudelo, also 19, plays for Chivas USA and was in Scotland during his MLS close season.

"Juan is someone we like," Lennon said. "We have made tentative approaches but won't be pursuing Frank."

Lennon expects right-back Adam Matthews to shrug off a groin strain picked up in the 1-0 William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round replay win over Arbroath at Gayfield Park, where the Wales international scored the only goal, in time for Saturday.

Press Association

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