CELTIC manager Neil Lennon refused to apportion blame for the late implosion which cost his team two points at Tannadice yesterday as he faced up to a fresh injury crisis ahead of Wednesday night’s Champions League showdown with Barcelona at Parkhead.
Leading 2-0 through goals from Nicolas Fedor and Tony Watt as the match approached stoppage time, Celtic were forced to settle for a point as Gary Mackay-Steven’s strike and an own goal from Efe Ambrose salvaged a dramatic draw for Dundee United.
Lennon’s frustration was compounded by seeing defenders Thomas Rogne and Emilio Izaguirre both limp out of the action with injuries which could rule them out of contention for the visit of the Catalan giants this week. Celtic already have concerns over winger James Forrest and the forward pair of Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper, all of whom missed out yesterday.
“Forrest is very doubtful,” revealed Lennon. “But we are hoping Hooper and Samaras can make it. Thomas went off with a thigh strain today early in the game which was disappointing. He’s been looking very good in training and I’m pretty sure if he had been playing at the end of the game, those things wouldn’t have happened and we wouldn’t have lost the goals we did. We should have headed the ball clear on a couple of occasions.
“Anyway, he is a doubt for Wednesday, as is Emilio who has a hamstring problem. So we’ll just have to wait and see how they are in the morning. It’s very frustrating today, because I thought we were excellent. The level of performance was very high and we didn’t get what we deserved, which was the three points.
“What happened at the first goal is between me and the players. It has come from a long throw-in, which we’ve let bounce in our box and we should have dealt with it.
“We got away with one after the first goal, when Jonny Russell flashed one past the post. That should have been the end of it but we just switched off and let United get a head of steam for two or three minutes at the end of the game and they got a lucky break with the equalising goal.
“But I’m not going to criticise the team. There will be people out there criticising us but that performance was very good today. There were some brilliant individual performances and we deserved our two great goals.
“Our play was good and we missed easy chances in the first half with two free headers we should have done better with. Is it two points dropped? Yes it is, but we didn’t get what we deserved today, which was a win.”
Lennon took satisfaction from a first goal for the club by Fedor, the Venezuelan international striker who is on a season-long loan from Getafe. Known by his nickname Miku, he had failed to find the net in his six previous first-team appearances but made the breakthrough yesterday after coming on as a second-half substitute.
“I’m delighted for Miku but I’m annoyed we didn’t see the game out,” added Lennon. “I had a wee chat with Miku this morning and he knows what is required of him. He has taken that on board and it was a lovely finish. He’s a good player and will bring things to the team that we haven’t got.”
Dundee United manager Peter Houston disagreed with Lennon’s assessment of the match, insisting his team’s late recovery earned them a point which was the least they merited for their efforts. “I feel it’s no more than we deserved,” said Houston. “I felt we were the better side in the second-half and I don’t think our goalie had too many saves to make.
“We made a positive substitution with Mackay-Steven coming on but we lost a poor goal and then our goalkeeper, who has been exceptional since joining us, had a bad kick and we’re 2-0 down.
“They kept going to the final minute and I’m forever saying put balls in the box as we’ll get a chance. It doesn’t need to be your own player that scores and I was proved right when Ambrose scored the equaliser in the last minute.
“Great credit to the players, because I felt their attitude and character today was different class and if the game had another five minutes to run we might have won it. Sometimes results like this can kickstart your season.
“If we win our games in hand, albeit against Celtic and Motherwell, we’ll not be far off third or fourth place or even second.
“We have great belief in the players here and if we get everyone fit that’ll be a boost. Gary Mackay-Steven got another half-hour under his belt today and, if we can get Rudi Skacel up to speed, that’ll be a help as well. If we get Jonny Russell up beside Jon Daly, we’ll score goals.
“At 2-0 down I didn’t think it was over. I just felt we needed a wee break. When you get a goal with a minute to go it sets teams rocking and Celtic were suddenly on the back-foot. Barry Douglas, who had a chance to put the ball in before and hit the first man, this time put it in cleanly and we had six or seven bodies in the box.”