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Has Neil Lennon’s time come?

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When questioned if securing third place was the target after Celtic were drawn in a daunting Champions League group which included Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow Lennon declared his intention was to win the group.

It seemed a bold statement, one which Lennon no doubt said with his tongue firmly in his cheek, but highlighted the sense of confidence which has developed at Celtic Park this season.

With no Rangers to worry about Celtic will retain their SPL title at a canter so the importance of reaching the promised land that is the Champions League cannot be over stated especially in terms of attracting fans in the vast numbers in which they have followed their beloved Hoops in recent years.

After a shaky start which included the infamous debacle of losing 2-0 to Ross County in the Scottish Cup semi-final, Lennon has won over the doubters who questioned the board’s wisdom in offering the Northern Irishman the job of managing one of the world’s most famous sides.

Even taking Rangers ten point deduction for entering into administration into consideration, Lennon showed excellent managerial acumen to mould a championship winning team which will now be rewarded with the glamour of tackling some of europe’s finest.

On paper it appears a real challenge, especially when you consider Celtic’s away record in european competition – before this season – but it would be foolish to write off their chances of causing some headaches for their opponents.

Kicking off with a home match against Portuguese cracks Benfica, Neil Lennon will be keen to ensure his players can perform to their maximum in the aim of obtaining all three points.

The visit to Moscow will be a real acid test and banking at least a point against Aiden McGeady’s men will put them in a good position before the team and no doubt a vast green and white army invade Barcelona where Messi and co will be waiting.

Taking on the might of Barca at home is extremely difficult for most sides but Celtic Park on a European night can be a tough place for the visitors to achieve a positive result as the Catalans found to their cost in 2004 when Alan Thompsons goal knocked them out of the UEFA Cup.

Celtic lost in their last visit to Lisbons’ magnificent Stadium of Light in 2007 so their fans will be hoping for better memories for the return tie versus Benfica before Spartak come calling in the final match of the group, a game which may well determine their fate.

It is an intriguing prospect to see how Lennon’s men will flourish in this grand old competition and he will require his big players, Foster, Mulgrew, Izaguirre, Wanyama, Kayal, Brown, Forrest, Commons, Samaras and Hooper to perform at their absolute best if Celtic are to enjoy their campaign.

Lennon has a big squad at his disposal but still felt the need to inject new blood into it, especially with the assault on europe’s big guns in mind.

The audacious bid to land Alessandro Del Piero may not have been successful but bringing in powerful Nigerian centre half Efi Ambrose and Venezuelan striker Miku have bolstered the squad and increased his options whilst the form of talented young players Tony Watt and Philip Twardzik also means Celtic supporters should have cautious optimism their heroes will make an impact on the tournament.

Neil Lennon has not been afraid to state his confidence, the sound of Zadok The Priest cascading around Celtic Park could well be followed by some more famous nights for the Hoops.

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