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Opinion is predictably split on Neil Lennon

PERHAPS all he had to do to attempt to draw a line under the season's tempestuous series of Old Firm clashes was salute his adoring fans and walk off the pitch.

But, complained critics, Celtic manager Neil Lennon stoked tensions at Ibrox yesterday, after reacting to alleged taunts from the Rangers home crowd, by raising his hands to his ears.

If he was trying to have the final say on the vendetta against him, which has included a nail- bomb being sent through the post, then Rangers fans insisted he had only added fuel to the fire.

The incident after the final whistle was in contrast to a somewhat subdued atmosphere both inside and outside the stadium compared with previous Old Firm encounters this year, according to fans, who also reported hearing less sectarian chanting.

Shona Fraser, a Rangers season ticket holder from East Kilbride, said: "I definitely noticed a marked decrease in sectarian signing at the game. I had been hoping it would be like that after being apprehensive that events over the past couple of weeks might have galvanised some supporters."

Lennon's gesture did not seem to have raised the temperature outside the ground, as rival fans went their separate ways, with Rangers and Celtic supporters leaving Ibrox Stadium with only the odd shout in their rivals' direction.

However, there was an unsurprisingly sharp division over Lennon's actions on micro- messaging website Twitter.

Those defending Lennon's actions said he had been reacting to chants such as "What's it like to live in fear?".

Celtic fan Caroline Kelly said: "I don't see the problem with Neil Lennon's gesture - they slagged him for 93 minutes, so I think he was justified."

However, Rangers supporter Leeann Hamilton, from Glasgow, said: "Neil Lennon remains a class-A d*** acting the way he did at the end. Unnecessary."

Outside the stadium, Rangers fan Mark Anderson, from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, said: "He was just stoking the fire. You did not see (Rangers manager] Walter Smith doing that at Celtic Park."

The Celtic support seemed upbeat as they streamed out towards their buses from the Broomloan Road stand. Irish flags were waved amid chants of "There's Only One Neil Lennon", while the ear-cupping gesture was mimicked for the cameras.

Yards away, but behind barriers and two lines of police and police horses, the sea of Rangers blue filling the road outside the main stand seemed largely muted.There was only the occasional lone shout towards the Celtic fans, such as "**** off, you ******* muppets."

Hordes of officers, clad in yellow jackets, some labelled "Police. Anti-Sectarian Initiative" accompanied the homeward-bound Celtic supporters. They reacted to the slightest hint of a flashpoint, with one fan ordered to remove an Irish flag draped round his shoulders as he passed the Wee Rangers Club.

However, perhaps mindful of the heavy police presence, banter between the fans appeared relatively good-natured; Celtic supporters in buses exchanged obscene gestures with passing Rangers fans with a smile.

The police operation before and after the match, completed with the Strathclyde Police helicopter whirring overhead, seemed smooth, uniform and well-drilled.

Celtic supporters were clear of the stadium within ten minutes of the end of the game, and the last bus was away 15 minutes later.

One hour after the final whistle, the only sign of the game on the largely deserted surrounding streets were yellow No Waiting traffic cones and the odd discarded plastic Union flag.

 
 
 

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