Monday 27 January 2020

We're focused and driven to seal double in style - Lennon

Roddy Forsyth

HAMPDEN PARK'S lush turf offers Neil Lennon the perfect surface to become only the third man after Jock Stein and Billy McNeill to win the Scottish Cup as both Celtic player and manager.

Since they collected their foregone conclusion of the SPL title last month, Lennon and his players have had ample time to reflect on the contrast between a flat domestic campaign – deprived of its edge by the relegation of Rangers to SFL3 – and the heroics displayed in the Champions League when they took Barcelona to the wire in Catalonia and despatched them at Parkhead.

Tomorrow, they have the football stage to themselves and it is the manager's desire to remind the football world that, while the game in Scotland is struggling to cope with serious difficulties, it remains capable of spectacles such as the two semi-finals of this tournament, from which both Celtic and Hibs emerged as winners by the odd goal in seven after extra-time.

IMPRESSIVE

"I'm delighted with the pitch," said Lennon. "When you see it in the sunshine it's very impressive. It looks like it's never been played on before so credit to the people at Hampden for that.

"You always hope it will be a great game, but you always hope you win. Our last two performances have been really powerful and there has been a real intensity to our play – and quality.

"I hope we bring that into the final, but we were playing very well going into the League Cup semi-final here against St Mirren and we didn't perform anywhere near the capability we could have that day."

In fact, disappointment on the south side of Glasgow has been a strangely recurrent motif during Lennon's three years in charge.

In that time, they have lost two Scottish League Cup finals, to Rangers and Kilmarnock, as well as this season's semi-final against St Mirren, while in the Scottish Cup both Ross County and Hearts stopped the Hoops in the last four.

The Scottish Cup final victory over Motherwell in 2011 remains the sole victory for Celtic from seven attempts at Hampden.

Celtic are clear favourites – a status earned by form and also guaranteed by Hibs' infamous inability to win this tournament since before the coronation of King Edward VII – but they have to do without Victor Wanyama, who is suspended, while James Forrest and Charlie Mulgrew are doubtful.

The prevailing view is inevitably that if Celtic play to their strengths, they will win.

"It would be a bit blase to say that," Lennon said. "You have to remember there are 11 other players out there trying to stop you from playing but, looking at the players in the last few weeks, they seem very focused and very driven to win this game." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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