NEIL LENNON reckons his Celtic players proved they are getting into their stride after a stumble.

The Hoops boss saw a lot of positives from the thrilling 2-2 Europa League Group H encounter with Lille in France last night.

Mohamed Elyououssi had the Parkhead men two goals ahead just after the half-hour mark following a quickfire double strike.

However, the joint Ligue 1 leaders came roaring back after the interval, despite having a penalty-kick saved by Scott Bain in the 40th minute.

Lennon believes the squad is beginning to gel after an international break that disrupted their progress with three players – Odsonne Edouard, Nir Bitton and Hatem Abd Elhamed – testing positive for coronavirus while on international duty and Ryan Christie being forced to sit out club and country games because he had been deemed to have come in contact with Stuart Armstrong who was a victim of the virus.

On top of that, the champions had injuries to Christopher Jullien, James Forrest and Mikey Johnston. Kristoffer Ajer joined the walking wounded when he sustained a groin injury and was forced to come off against Lille with the Hoops 2-0 ahead at the time.

Lennon’s side face the vitally-important delayed Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden on Sunday where a win will put them within 90 minutes from clinching an unprecedented TWELFTH successive domestic honour while claiming the phenomenal quadruple treble.

Celtic also face back-to-back away Premiership challenges at Fir Park against Motherwell a week on Sunday and at Easter Road against Hibs on November 21 following the international break.

The champions are six points adrift of Rangers with a game in hand as they attempt to remain on track of their tenth consecutive crown.

Lennon, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “There was nothing wrong with the confidence.

“We felt they played really well second-half against AC Milan, they scored three goals away from home at the weekend and didn’t get what they deserved.

“They’ve played really well on this occasion and come away with a positive result even though it could have been better.

“I didn’t see a lack of confidence in the performance. In fact, I thought they were very positive for the majority of the game. We looked a good side.

“Some of them need to get a little bit fitter and they’ll only do that by getting more game time into their legs.

“But I’m delighted with the character the players showed. It’s not just the ones coming back, the ones who played and played well.

“Losing Kristoffer Ajer at that stage of the game was a blow because he’s been playing really well.

“I thought Jeremie Frimpong was really good, we looked pretty comfortable. Olivier Ntcham had a fine game, Callum McGregor and Scott Brown, too. I thought Diego Laxalt was excellent.

“There’s more out of Odsonne Edouard to come now and there’s more to come from Leigh Griffiths and Tom Rogic.

“Ryan Christie had a two week break where he wasn’t doing anything and eventually it catches up with you so he was fatigued.”

Lennon continued: “They’ll feel the benefit of it, I think we’ll be strong for Sunday again and we’ll go into it with a positive frame of mind.

“I’m not getting carried away, but I wasn’t too down last week, either. I need them more fit and up to speed with the way we want to play.

“But that will come and in the meantime we’ve got big games coming thick and fast.

“There’s no doubt that what happened in the international break set us back and now we’re starting to get players back fitter and stronger.

“They’re quality players, too, allied to the players we already have.”

Lennon added: “We played really well. I thought we got fatigued as the game went on, you could see the effect that Covid has had on a few of the players.

“But I’m delighted with the approach to the game. First-half, we were outstanding and I thought on the counter-attack we could have won the game.

“The only disappointment for me is that we’ve conceded again from a set-play.

“That’s something we’ve talked about endlessly and we have to deal with them better when they come into our box.

“But there were some great performances under the circumstances and it’s a point that keeps us very much alive in the group.”

Celtic now meet Sparta Prague in back-to-back fixtures next month.


About Author


Acclaimed author Alex Gordon wrote the biography of Scotland international legend Denis Law, entitled 'King and Country'. He is a former columnist with World Soccer magazine and Scottish correspondent of respected European journal L'Equipe.

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