Being Celtic manager is a job where you have to take the credits when they come and roll with the punches when the critics take shots at you. It’s not always appropriate to speak out but Neil Lennon has decided to hit back.
His task last week was to get Celtic through to the play off round in the Europa League by winning away in Riga. Job done. It was a tough task, it wasn’t pretty and it took a late winner from Mohammed Elyounoussi to secure the win. But it was still job done.
The Daily Record explains Lennon’s frustration on some of the criticism after the match and before Sunday’s home win against Hibernian:
“I wasn’t happy with some of the narratives after the Riga game in terms of we ‘toiled’ and ‘scraped through’ – we didn’t.
“We were in total control. Yes, we didn’t hammer them 3-0 or 4-0. We could have done.
“We dominated the game and could have had a couple of goals before the winner actually came.”
He went on to reflect the context and conditions of the game on a difficult pitch made it a tough challenge. We saw a well organised and motivated Riga team fighting hard to stay in the game. It’s their first European defeat at home and we know they beat FC Copenhagen there 1-0 last season. So it’s no easy place to go and win.
Celtic’s away results in Europe have been much better over the last couple of years too, the win in Lazio being a prime example. Lennon underlined that point:
“Our away form has been superb. Apart from in Cluj last year, when we had already qualified, we have a good unbeaten record in the last couple of years.
“That delights me because playing away from home in Europe, as I know myself, is very difficult to do.”
Going back to the task and job done point, Lennon is clearly also delighted to be through to the play off round with the win over Riga and clean sheet secured. And he is confident of more to come. That will need new players to settle in, get to know each other and build relationships. He talks confidently on that point too in terms of team spirit:
“The atmosphere in the dressing room is fantastic. There’s a good camaraderie among the players and that comes from winning games.”
Looking ahead to the play off round and a tie away to Sarajevo, Lennon reflected back on Celtic’s qualifying ties against them last season where the hoops won through and had a 1-3 win away in Bosnia:
“They have changed some personnel but, in terms of style of play, I think they are pretty similar to last season.
“Big, strong, athletic, physical outfit.
“The game is not going to be in Sarajevo, from what we gather it will be in Zenica.
“We will prepare as best we can. It is a difficult one. It was difficult out there last season but hopefully that experience will stand us in good stead for next week – but we are expecting a tough tie.”
So far, so good, while we will all want a great performance, for these matches, the result remains all important and a win is a win. Getting through to the Group stages is the task to be achieved.
Before then, the domestic season continues and Lennon again took brave decisions and perhaps scored more points over the critics with his starting line up for the home win over Hibs. His use of Mohammed Elyounoussi and the payback with a goal perhaps showed the player made his own point too.