Celtic boss Neil Lennon can’t afford to waste time on anniversary celebrations

Anniversaries can be a reason for celebration and reflection but Neil Lennon will have time for neither on Wednesday.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon applauds the travelling Celtic fans in Copenhagen after the 1-1 draw in the Europa League last 32. Picture: Niels Christian Vilmann/AFP via Getty
Celtic manager Neil Lennon applauds the travelling Celtic fans in Copenhagen after the 1-1 draw in the Europa League last 32. Picture: Niels Christian Vilmann/AFP via Getty

The day will mark a year since his whirlwind return as Celtic manager, following Brendan Rodgers’ abrupt departure to Leicester City.

By any measure, Lennon has been a major success so far. He has lost just five of his 62 games so far in his second spell in charge of the Scottish champions, boasting a win ratio of over 80 per cent.

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But he knows better than anyone that resting on your laurels simply isn’t an option in a role for which many Celtic supporters were less than enthusiastic about his appointment 12 months ago.

That dissent has largely dissipated but Lennon remains acutely aware that he occupies a job where just one bad result can have the doubters on his back once again.

“Yeah, of course you are,” he said in the aftermath of Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Copenhagen in Denmark which leaves Celtic in a strong position to reach the last 16 of the Europa League.

“I hope it (the moaning) has stopped but you are never going to win everyone over. You just do the job the best 
you can and do it as 
conscientiously as you can.

“I got told the other day that the one-year mark is coming up. How do I look? I’m hanging in there! Seriously, it has flown past. You are just going from game to game to game. You don’t have time to source it back and analyse things.

“We were already looking at Kilmarnock on the plane on the way home from Denmark.

“These players have been unbelievable for me. We’re in a strong position at the moment. They have won three trophies since I have come back, they have topped a Europa League group and now had a great result in Denmark.

“We are going well in the league and have won the League Cup this season, so they’ve been fantastic.

“I cannot speak highly enough of them and that is why I will never criticise them because their effort and their mentality is out of this world.”

Lennon admits the challenges he now faces contrast fairly sharply with the ones he dealt with during his first spell as Celtic manager.

“How has the job changed?,” he added. “I’m working with different players, it’s a different time, it’s different cultures in the dressing room and how you manage them.

“There are different coaches and different coaching methods as well. I’ve had to adapt rather than them having to adapt to me.

“I’ve not really found it tough. I’ve got great backroom staff who work ever so hard. They should get as much credit as I do.”

While maintaining their healthy lead at the top of the Premiership is Celtic’s immediate priority ahead of Kilmarnock’s visit on Sunday, their hopes of winning a post-group stage knockout tie in Europe for the first time since 2004 have been enhanced by their result in Copenhagen.

Odsonne Edouard’s away goal, along with Fraser 
Forster’s late save from the first VAR-awarded penalty against a Scottish club, make Celtic favourites for the second leg of the last-32 tie in Glasgow next Thursday.

“VAR is for the good of the game and the good of the 
referee,” said Lennon. “I have no complaints. It was 
unfortunate for us, but if it was for my team, I’d have been screaming penalty.

“The Copenhagen manager was watching the replay on 
the VAR monitor and 
cheerleading the crowd.

“We were watching it as well and your heart is sinking. But with Fraser Forster in goal you never know what can happen and he’s made another 
brilliant save.”

Lennon was left to wax 
lyrical once more about top scorer Edouard and also had special praise for central defender Christopher Jullien when Celtic came under 
second-half pressure.

“That’s Odsonne’s 25th goal of the season and he’s a 
special player. I hear some people comparing him to Henrik Larsson but you can’t do that. You can’t compare him to 
anybody. He’s his own individual – a real quality striker and I love working with him.

“There are things he does that makes your jaw drop. At times, he does things that are totally unexpected and it may prove to be a really important goal in Denmark.

“He doesn’t get disappointed if he misses. He waits for the next one and puts it away and I think his finishing has got a lot better over the past couple of years.

“I also thought Jullien was immense in Copenhagen. He had a great game. Headed everything he possibly could. His attitude and his will to win was a real show of character away from home and I think he’s been superb. He’s got leadership qualities and has that presence as well.”