Celtic boss Neil Lennon welcomes return of an old foe

New experince in Europe awaits Parkhead side
Celtic manager Neil Lennon supervises training ahead of the clash with Dundee United. Picture: Craig Foy/SNSCeltic manager Neil Lennon supervises training ahead of the clash with Dundee United. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Celtic manager Neil Lennon supervises training ahead of the clash with Dundee United. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

In a league where familiarity can sometimes feed monotony, Neil Lennon is relishing the prospect of back-to-back games which he believes foster a feeling of freshness.

This evening, his Celtic team will face up to Dundee United, whose stint in the Championship has deprived them of a meeting since January 2016, and they will follow that up with a first-ever head to head with Hungarian champions Ferencvaros in their latest Champions League qualifier, at Celtic Park on Wednesday.

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This week’s romp to victory over KR Reykjavik signalled a successful return to action after the nine in a row winners were effectively sin-binned due to Boli Bolingoli’s coronavirus travel transgression. And, after the dropped points against Kilmarnock in the last domestic outing, the Parkhead boss is looking for a similar level of performance from players he admits are still shy of their peak.

But, he says the challenge will be a new one. Not only are United recent returnees to the Premiership, they have a man at the helm, Micky Mellon, with limited experience of managing in Scotland, rendering him a different puzzle for Lennon to solve.

“I played against him when I was at Crewe and he was at Blackpool on a number of occasions. He was a good player and Blackpool, one season, won promotion when big Sam Allardyce was the manager.

“He’s also had a very good career in management. If you look at his stats, they’ve been excellent. He did a great job at Fleetwood, Shrewsbury and Tranmere. I came across him one pre-season when I took Hibs down to play Shrewsbury but I can’t remember coming across him too much in our management days.”

That pre-season meeting saw Lennon take bragging rights but, having watched United’s opening matches, he is taking nothing for granted.

“Dundee United are a big club with a great history. Tannadice is a great stadium and we’re very much looking forward to the freshness – different opposition and a different style of play.

“I think Dundee United have made a pretty impressive start. They’ve not won at home but they’ve had two very good away wins at Motherwell and Ross County.

“There’s an energy about them. They’ll be a good addition to the division – no question. Micky’s come in and it seems to have been seamless. They are playing some nice football. We’re expecting a good examination.”

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Adamant that he can put out a strong side today and on Wednesday, as well as next weekend against Motherwell, Lennon says he is pleased with the quality of choice available to him, especially after the strong showings midweek saw the gauntlet thrown down by several contenders.

“I was really pleased with the team, pleased with the boys who came in,” said the Celtic manager, who admitted to an interest in defender Shane Duffy. “Have any of them done enough to keep their places? They might have done. They’ve been training really well so have earned the right to play.”

Conceding that Tom Rogic may be on the way out, Lennon maintained there had been no enquiries for other players. “Happy” with the strikers he has, he feels no major need to bolster his strikeforce. and says Leigh Griffith is not going out on loan. He also refused to take sides in the Gordon Strachan and John Hartson debate over Odsonne Edouard as a more natural No 9 or No 10, insisting he is either.

“One thing I do know is he’s an outstanding footballer and we’re delighted to have him whether he plays up front on his own or in a two. It depends who plays around him as well. His all-round game is fantastic and his goal the other night was simply brilliant. He is in a great place at the minute and I’m delighted that he’s fit and healthy and ready to go again.”

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