Neil Lennon has hit back at Derek McInnes over the Aberdeen manager’s claim that Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer was “laughing and winking” at Sam Cosgrove as he lay on the ground following the challenge that led to the Dons striker’s red card in the meeting between the teams at the weekend.
Speaking immediately after his team’s 2-1 defeat at Parkhead, McInnes said Lennon himself admitted the dismissal was harsh. The Celtic manager has now had a rethink on that assessment and is unhappy at his Pittodrie counterpart questioning his player’s conduct in the incident.
“I’m not convinced about that at all. Kris isn’t like that,” he said over the claim that Ajer winked at Cosgrove. “At the end of the day, he’s on the receiving end of a very heavy tackle. Whether he’s winking or not is irrelevant and I have no evidence he did do that. Derek should be concentrating on his own player and I’ll concentrate on mine.
“I thought at the time it was full-blooded. I think there was intent there because he didn’t need to make the challenge. I think he was trying to put a marker down for some reason. I don’t know why. I don’t know if there was frustration with Kris making a great tackle on [Jon] Gallagher. There is no real need to make a challenge like that. He could have just shied Kris into the corner.
“He’s got plenty of the ball, but in this day and age, he’s off the ground when I’ve seen it again and he’s caught Kris on the follow through. So I can see now why the referee did give it. Ten years ago, you’d have been delighted with a challenge like that, but you’d have to ask him the reason why he’s making a challenge like that there because it was totally unnecessary.
“[Kris] could have been hurt. He may have seen the challenge coming and sort of skipped out of it, but he has left the ground. It’s definitely excessive force and that’s why I think it’s unnecessary. He could have put a block on it, he’s on his left foot, he’s not going anywhere. At the end of the day, what do you want to get out of it? Tacking like that? I understand him making a challenge, but it’s just the way he made it and it wasn’t that type of game, either. It was feisty, but it wasn’t over physical. It was totally out of context for the game.”
Lennon maintains there will be no thoughts of Sunday’s game with Rangers when his league leaders travel to St Mirren for their Boxing Day game.
However, he was prepared to look a little further ahead when saying he hoped to conclude some transfer business before the winter shutdown and Celtic’s warm weather training break in Dubai in the second week of January.
Attempts to sign the £6 million-rated Slovenian striker Andraz Sporar appear to have been stepped up, with Lennon confirming talks with the 19-times capped player’s current club Slovan Bratislava. Reports have also claimed Celtic could sign Brazilian centre-back Fabricio Bruno as a free agent, with the 23-year-old in a contract dispute with his club, Cruzeiro.
“There were talks I believe [on Monday over Sporar] but he is one of a number of options that we are talking to at the minute. There is no further progress on that one,” said Lennon, who did not comment directly on Bruno. “It’d be ideal [if we can sign players before Dubai], but whether we can do it is another thing. There will be other clubs interested in the players that we are interested in as well. Agents, presidents, they will hold on to get the best offer and best deal. I get that. That’s their job.
“If we can get them out to Dubai, brilliant. If not, we’ve got the whole month to do a bit of business. And, if we don’t do anything, I’ll be quite happy with what we’ve got, although I do think there are one or two areas we can strengthen. As a unit and as a squad, they are in a really good place. I’ve done lots of business on the last day of windows which has worked out fine. Sometimes it’s a game of patience. I know the fans will be impatient and other people will be impatient, but it’s just not the way it works sometimes.”