CELTIC manager Neil Lennon is confident Mohamed Bangura will not face any lingering resentment from his team-mates following his return to the club yesterday.
The Sierra Leone international striker trained at Lennoxtown for the first time following the end of his year-long loan period in Sweden with Elfsborg.
Bangura found himself at the centre of controversy in August when, against Lennon’s wishes, he played for Elfsborg against Celtic in the third qualifying round of the Champions League. After the second leg of the tie, which Celtic won 1-0 on aggregate, captain Scott Brown refused to accept a handshake from Bangura.
“That was months ago,” said Lennon. “That’s in the past. I didn’t have a problem with Mo, it was with Elfsborg for making him play against us.
“I know Mo maybe made the decision himself, but I think when you are on loan at a club, they should show some common sense and take you out of a situation like that for your own peace of mind. He was under enormous pressure at the time but I think the lads welcome him back here without any problems.”
The 24-year-old, signed from AIK Stockholm for £2.2 million in the summer of 2011, is under contract with Celtic for another 18 months. He has failed to score in any of his 16 first-team appearances for the club so far. He netted seven times in 35 outings for Elfsborg and will be given an opportunity to stake a fresh claim for a first-team place by Lennon after Celtic return from next week’s mid-season break in Turkey.
“Mo won’t come to Turkey with us because we’ve not got the visa application for him,” added Lennon. “He’ll stay and play a development game here and when we come back he’ll join us again.
“I think he is determined to make his mark here because he hasn’t done that yet. He’s played away on loan twice since we signed him, so we’re hoping that experience has improved him, getting him some game time. Hopefully he can add something to what we’ve got.”
But Lennon is unlikely to cut short Tony Watt’s loan spell at Lierse, despite the Scotland under-21 international striker having struggled to adapt to life with the Belgian club where his attitude has been criticised by coach Stanley Menzo.
Watt is currently back at Lennoxtown, with the Belgian season shut down until 18 January, and Lennon is assessing the 20-year-old’s situation.
“I had a chat with Tony,” said Lennon. “He came back from injury and came off the bench to score a couple of goals for Lierse in their last game before the winter break in Belgium. He looks well. He has been training here the last couple of days. He seems happy enough.
“We might bring him back yet, that’s a decision I need to talk about over the month. Sometimes it takes time adjusting to a different environment, it might be a homesickness thing. I don’t know. But he seems to have been made more aware of what he has here, as well as the opportunity he has in Belgium. He is ready to play, whether it is with us or Lierse.
“He’s not given any indication as to whether he wants to come back now. He just said that when he does come back, he will be fully focused on the football. He probably will spend the rest of the season in Belgium, although we’ve not had that discussion yet.” Lennon is seeking an improved display from his team tomorrow when they face St Mirren in Paisley. Although Celtic maintained both their unbeaten Premiership record and 11-point lead at the top of the table with their 1-0 home win over Partick Thistle on New Year’s Day, their performance attracted criticism.
“We didn’t play well and there was a flatness to the performance,” admitted Lennon. “I think there’s a definite tiredness among the players, they looked really leggy in the last 20 minutes. I expect us to have a little bit more about us against St Mirren, which we will need.
“The players put a huge effort into the Champions League campaign this season and there’s obviously a hangover when you are out of Europe. A few of the players are running on fumes at the moment. I want to get over this game on Sunday, then give them a chance to recover in Turkey and I think we will see a really good second half to the season.
“We’ve had a couple of stodgy performances recently, but overall I think we play really good football. We have walloped some teams along the way and I’m pretty sure we will do that again as we go on.
“A lot of teams we play are really up for trying to be the first to beat us in the league this season. They want to take that scalp. That might weigh on our players’ minds too, make them play with a little less freedom because they want to preserve the record. That’s something we will talk about over the course of next week.”