Neil Lennon says Celtic are ready to go again
Neil Lennon has detached himself from the “hysteria” over Celtic’s Champions League exit and vowed to eradicate his team’s slow starts.
The Scottish champions recovered from a half-time deficit against Cluj on Tuesday to lead twice before crashing to a 4-3 home defeat that consigned them to a Europa League play-off against AIK.
Lennon again stood by his decision to play Callum McGregor instead of £3million signing Boli Bolingoli at left-back and stick with Kristoffer Ajer and Jozo Simunovic in central defence with £7million arrival Christopher Jullien on the bench.
And he feels his team did more than enough in the second half to win the game.
“I understand the environment, I understand the hysteria,” said the 48-year-old ahead of Saturday’s Betfred Cup tie against Dunfermline.
“It’s just the modern-day phenomenon now. You have to take a step back from that and detach yourself from it.
“So when we win 7-0 and fives I’m not thinking I am the next big thing and when we lose I’m not too low about it. There has to be a sense of perspective on every performance and every game.
“We didn’t deserve to lose the game. I’m not big on stats but we dominated possession and had 20-odd attempts on goal. As a manager you have to look at that and say maybe it just wasn’t our night.
“We were rampant at 2-1 and just gave Cluj oxygen in the game. Some of the goals we lost were freakish to say the least.
“We have to get over the disappointment and look forward to Saturday and build on where we are.
“We are bullish about things, we still have a lot to play for. It’s a setback but we are galvanised and reunited and we will go again.”
Lennon referenced the second full season of his first spell in charge when Celtic trailed Rangers by 15 points before winning the league.
He added: “I have been in difficult situations as a Celtic manager before, in difficult situations as Hibernian manager before. I wouldn’t say this is a difficult situation.
“It’s a blow, it’s a setback. But I have a fantastically talented group of players that I have a lot of gratitude for people giving me the opportunity to manage.
“I didn’t think we played poorly, I didn’t think we deserved to lose. But we did lose it, that’s the reality and people can come back to me on that. But I have to look at the performance: first half below par, second half outstanding. So we have to marry the two.”
Cluj – and Motherwell three days earlier – both caused Celtic early problems by pressing them in numbers deep inside their half.
And Lennon – whose side have lost the first goal on four occasions this season – has told his men not to be so intent on playing their way out of the trap.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a major concern because we have good character and bounce back very, very well but we would cause ourselves a lot less problems if we start the game as well as we finish them,” he said.
“If teams are going to press, there is nothing wrong with turning them and flipping it and getting runners going forward.
“They are still sort of a little bit ingrained in the way they played before, and when teams are used to that they find it difficult to change.
“We have to vary our play a little bit if teams are coming at us.”
Goalkeeper Scott Bain misses the visit of Dunfermline with a dislocated thumb while Simunovic and Mikey Johnston are fitness doubts.
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