Celtic make Neil Lennon the ‘proudest man in Europe’
NEIL Lennon described himself as “probably the proudest man in Europe” after Celtic’s historic 3-2 Champions League Group G victory over Spartak Moscow at the Luzhniki Stadium.
With Spartak down to ten men, and struggling to cope with concerted pressure from the Scottish champions, Georgios Samaras’s last-gasp header gave Celtic their first win away from home in the group stages of European football’s elite club competition – their first in 19 attempts after six previous campaigns failed to yield a single victory on their travels.
It was a deserved win for the Parkhead side, who altered their gameplan perfectly to turn round the match from a 2-1 deficit after Spartak defender Juan Insaurralde was sent off just after the hour mark for preventing Gary Hooper going clean through on goal. It was undoubtedly the turning point in the match, but it was the correct call – but only after a fashion.
French referee Tony Chapron initially signalled for play to continue before he overturned his own decision after consulting with one of his assistants. As soon as he brandished the red card to Insauuralde, Celtic sensed that they could take full advantage.
The outstanding Hooper had given the visitors the lead in the 12th minute before Emmanuel Emenike netted twice for the Russian club, once either side of the break. Celtic levelled when an angled drive from substitute James Forrest was deflected in off Spartak captain Dmitri Kombarov.
Celtic, though, refused to settle for just a point and, to cap a remarkable night for the Scottish champions, Samaras rose brilliantly in the box to head in an Emilio Izaguiire cross to send the small band of travelling fans – and the Celtic bench – wild with delight.
They can now look forward to their double-header with Barcelona, which commences with a trip to the Nou Camp on 23 October, before the reverse fixture at Celtic Park on 7 November.
“I am probably the proudest man in Europe tonight,” said Lennon. “I cannot speak highly enough of the players, they were magnificent.
“They played magnificent football at a very tough venue against an excellent side. They showed great character and fortitude to come back after going behind just after half-time.
“I thought we thoroughly deserved to win it. We didn’t start the game particularly well, we looked a bit nervous and our passing wasn’t there for the first five or ten minutes, but we had a quick break and scored a good goal.
“I have to say I thought Gary Hooper was world class tonight. I thought he was just magnificent and the catalyst for a lot of good things we did tonight.
“People keep asking me about him playing for England, well I think he showed how good he is tonight. But there were so many good performances. Izaguirre, Ambrose, Wilson, Brown, Samaras came on to a game, Commons got stronger as the game went on, James Forrest came on and gave us pace and quality. I think people underestimate Celtic. I don’t think we get the respect we deserve but maybe tonight’s performance might change a few attitudes.”
Celtic have four points from two games but Lennon refused to get carried away about their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages. He quipped: “We just have to play Barcelona home and away. . .
“It is a huge step for the club. It is our first away win in the Champions League so we have broken a record. It is fantastic, but there is a lot of football to be played in the group. We have two home games and Benfica and Barcelona away so it is still an open group for second place as far as I am concerned. We are still novices in this tournament but a few more performances like that wouldn’t do us any harm at all. Every one of the players was a credit to the club.”
Spartak winger Aiden McGeady blamed the sending-off for the defeat, saying it took the wind out of his side’s sails.
“Of course it was the key moment of the match,” the Ireland midfielder, who joined Spartak from Celtic two years ago, said. “We were up 2-1 but after that we didn’t play well and allowed Celtic to score two easy goals because of complete disarray in our defence.”
Spartak had been unlucky to lose 3-2 to Barcelona in the Nou Camp on match day one but could have few complaints about their defeat by Celtic. Coach Unai Emery said: “You can’t compare the two games, Barcelona and Celtic are two different sides. In Barcelona we seemed to be more disciplined. We should have been more aggressive in midfield tonight, that was our main problem. Some players lacked confidence. We must take a long, hard look at ourselves. You can’t make so many mistakes and expect to win. Now our only chance is to win our next matches.”
Spartak next host Benfica on 23 October. “Nothing is lost, we will fight on,” said Spartak owner Leonid Fedun. “You could see that it was all normal until the sending-off.”
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