THERE was extra cheer for the Celtic supporters after yesterday’s victory over Partick Thistle when Neil Lennon revealed that match-winner Joe Ledley had intimated to the manager that he wishes to remain at the club.
However, Lennon dismissed reports linking Celtic with a move for former Hibernian striker Leigh Griffiths, who is currently playing at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“That’s just speculation,” said Lennon. “I’m not going to name names. I’ll have names thrown at me all month now. It’s a long month, this is only the first day of it and I’m answering questions about this already.
“I’ll probably be doing it for the next 31 days. But I am determined to bring players in to make the squad better for the latter half of the season and to give some of the players a hand and to make us better.”
Celtic started the new year as they finished the last one – with a hard-fought but generally uninspiring 1-0 victory that maintains their 11-point lead at the top of the Premiership.
Ledley, who is out of contract in the summer and free to speak to other clubs as of yesterday, scored the only goal of the game after 38 minutes. His central role in the afternoon’s proceedings meant it was impossible to avoid the question of his future after the game.
Lennon was happy to offer the information that he and Ledley had spoken on Tuesday and now it was a matter of agreeing a deal with his representatives. Crucially, the player himself told Lennon that he wants to extend his stay at Celtic.
“We had a conversation yesterday, so we are hoping that we can get something finalised in the not-too-distant future,” said Lennon, proving that business was being conducted at Celtic amid the revelry elsewhere on Hogmanay.
“You are never confident but you are hopeful. He’s been an important player for me and the club and he gives us the stability I need. We can’t have all our players leaving for big money, or bringing in players and just developing them for a couple of years.
“I need a spine to stay together – the likes of [Scott] Brown, Ledley and a few others like [Kris] Commons and Sammi [Georgios Samaras] if we can get him over the line. These guys have been big players for us. I want Joe to stay,” continued Lennon. “He has shown great mental strength because it must be a very unsettling period for him as it will be for Georgios as well. He [Ledley] has intimated that he would like to stay and we are hoping we can speak to his representatives this week and get that finalised.
“I have spoken to Joe over a period of a number of weeks but the talks certainly haven’t affected his performance levels. I thought he was our best player today by a considerable margin.”
While Ledley’s level of performance has been consistent, Samaras has not been making himself seem quite so indispensable in recent weeks. He was dropped to the substitute’s bench yesterday. However, Lennon is keen to secure the Greek striker’s long-term future as well despite reports of interest from Spanish side Atletico Madrid.
“As for Samaras, again we need to speak to his representatives and see how the land lies,” said Lennon. “At the minute he’s unsettled and a little bit insecure about things. We need to try to get him happy again.
“I think he’d like to stay but whether we can strike a deal or not is another thing. There has been no interest from any clubs expressed to us but maybe there has been to his representatives. As far as I’m aware there has been some interest from other clubs.”
Using an appropriate term following a game against Partick Thistle, Lennon admitted that his side needed a “jag” on the evidence of several recent performances, and were in need of a break after a remorseless period of games.
“We were flat, there is no question about it,” he said, following a match where Thistle were unfortunate not to at least secure a draw. “We looked tired and lacked a lot of spark, particularly in the final third. There were some good bits of play but I expect better and I’m sure the supporters do too.
“But there was flatness about us in the second half in Perth, in Inverness and again today. That’s three out of the last three games and it’s starting to look like things are catching up on some of the players. We need this break. We look very heavy-legged and mentally tired.
“So we need a break and an injection of new blood. There is no question the squad needs freshening up and we will endeavour to do that. It definitely needs a jag because we are starting to look a bit laboured in our play.”
Lennon is keen to add to his squad over the coming weeks as Celtic prepare to head to Turkey to take part in a four-team tournament next week. “We are in a decent position financially, where we can look to bring players in,” the manager said. “I think the squad is thin, there is no question about that. When we pick up a couple of injuries we look a bit light. In terms of comparison with the other teams in the SPFL we are still very, very strong but in terms of where I want to take the team and the club going forward, I think we need an injection of quality and that takes a bit of money.”