Neil Lennon has expressed surprise at Celtic’s defeat by Lincoln Red Imps on Tuesday night but doesn’t believe the result deserves to be treated as the club’s worst of all time.
Indeed, Lennon is of the opinion he played in a defeat that was more seismic – Celtic’s 5-0 loss to Artmedia Bratislava in Gordon Strachan’s first match in charge 11 years ago. The heavy reversal against the Slovakian club left Celtic with too much to do to save the Champions League qualifying tie in the second leg, although they came close with a 4-0 victory.
Lennon, who was speaking on the eve of his new club Hibs’ Europa League second qualifying round tie with Brondby, believes Celtic’s defeat by the Gibraltan part-timers is not nearly so drastic – since Brendan Rodgers’ side are still almost certain to progress next week.
“Celtic will come through the tie no problem because they will be a week fitter,” said Lennon, whose own reign as Celtic manager included a 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Ross County. “These games are always difficult. It might be a surprise result. If they were knocked out of the competition then I could understand the hype and the furore and the criticism but Brendan’s right, there’s no need to push the panic button. Celtic will come through, no problem whatsoever.
“It’s not like that,” he said, with reference to the Artmedia Bratislava defeat that kicked off Strachan’s reign at Celtic. “Artmedia knocked Celtic out. I was playing. We beat them 4-0 in the second leg and almost made it 5-0. Artmedia went on to have a pretty good Champions League campaign that season. They drew with Rangers twice and nearly qualified for the knockouts.
“They were no mugs.
“I wasn’t shocked [by the Lincoln Red Imps defeat],” he added. “I was a wee bit surprised. But I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it, really. I wouldn’t. I think there’s been too much made of it. If they had gone out of the competition then I could understand the criticism. But there’s another tie to be played yet and Celtic
will come through that and it will be forgotten about very quickly.”
Lennon believes Scottish clubs are on a hiding to nothing when playing competitive European ties so early in their new-season preparations. His Hibernian side face the Danish team Brondby at Easter Road tonight just 54 days after lifting the Scottish Cup against Rangers.
“Look, we get a raw deal in Scotland because of all these qualifiers,” he said. “Even under Martin [O’Neill, former Celtic manager] we did not get through against Basle with the team we had. But in the end we got to the Uefa Cup final that year so we got pretty good consolation out of it.
“But the qualifiers are difficult. And Brendan has only been in job for a couple of weeks. It is unfair to judge Brendan on that, for sure. And as I say Celtic will get through.
“We have four teams in Europe [this season] but I think it is really unfair, some of these guys have not played 90 minutes and they are playing teams midway through their season.
“We have to take that into account and we also have to take into account that we do not have the divine right to qualify.
“Over the years, because of our record in the 1970s and 80s and early part of this century, we think we have a divine right to be in the competitions. But you have to earn that right and a lot of other countries have progressed obviously.”