Celtic will need to reach Europa League quarter-final for Neil Lennon to get excited

Neil Lennon insists he will only regard progress to at least the quarter-finals of the Europa League for Celtic this season as a cause for celebration.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon experienced a Uefa Cup final as a player. Picture: Alan Harvey / SNS

The Scottish champions go into their last-32 tie against Copenhagen this week having not won a post-group stage knockout tie in European competition since they beat Barcelona in the last 16 of the Uefa Cup back in 2004.

But, while Lennon says Celtic are ‘in it to win it’ ahead of tomorrow night’s first leg in the Danish capital, he will be maintaining a low-key approach to their European campaign until or unless they go much deeper into the tournament.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

“It would be nice to reach the last 16 but I wouldn’t be jumping through hoops about it,” said the Celtic 
manager.

Alan Thompson scores to give Celtic a 1-0 win over Barcelona at Celtic Park in the Uefa Cup in 2004 – the club’s last post-group stage knockout win in European competition.

“It’s when you start looking at the quarter-finals that you start to get really excited. But let’s try to negotiate Copenhagen first and take it from there.

“Will we start to get excited if we get to the next round? Yes. It’s like the League Cup or one of the domestic cup competitions – the juices really start flowing when you get closer to the final, if you want to get that far ahead.

“That was always the way I looked at it as a Celtic player. That’s how I remember the year we reached the Uefa Cup Final in Seville.

“We had some cracking ties and this is another cracking tie as well. It’s one for the players to look forward to without the extra pressure of any domestic expectations weighing down on them.

“We are in it to win it. You want to make your reputation in Europe as well. There is so much going on all around us. We can’t take our eye off anything or let our foot slide from the pedal. We will have a chat about things before the game and see how we go about it.”

Celtic will fly to Copenhagen on this afternoon in buoyant mood after Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie maintained their 10-point lead at the top of the Premiership.

“Psychologically, Aberdeen was a big win for us in terms of the title,” added Lennon.

“That’s what our focus has been on, but now obviously we can turn our focus to Copenhagen. We want to see if we can make any inroads in the Europa League now as well. We are playing well enough to do that.

“You never park the league when you are in a title race. It’s always at the back of your mind. We have another big game on Sunday against Kilmarnock, who seem to have found their mojo again. So we are not taking anything for granted on that front. But we have had a think about Copenhagen now – I’ve been able to think about it Monday and Tuesday and we’ll take it from there.

“I certainly wouldn’t underestimate them. Copenhagen have a good pedigree in Europe, be it the Champions League or the Uefa or Europa competitions. They have produced some very good players over the years, so we are not taking the game lightly, that’s for sure.”

Celtic have impressed on the road in Europe this season, losing just one of their seven away fixtures which was 
a “dead rubber” in their Europa League group against Romanian champions Cluj.

“We have been excellent away from home,” said Lennon. “The players have been brave and shown an abundance of quiet confidence and character. I’m really hoping for more of the same on Thursday.”

Lennon’s own tactical flexibility has also been a factor in their away form, switching systems both from game to game and within matches.

“It’s the way I have always wanted to manage,” he said. “There were times in my first spell in charge at Celtic when we go 4-2-3-1 or with a diamond in midfield or with the three.

“I like the players to be adaptable and I think we’re better for it. I have great coaching staff here in John Kennedy and Damien Duff. John has worked the whole way through with Ronny Deila and Brendan Rodgers, so he has learned a lot coaching-wise and brings a lot of knowledge to the systems as well.”

Lennon has been gratified by the durability of his squad during a demanding schedule since the winter break and will be further boosted by the availability of right-back Jeremie Frimpong and central defender Jozo Simunovic for the Copenhagen test after recent injury absences.

“I’m pleased with what I have seen with the players and I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen of the fitness levels as well,” he said.

“It’s a big ask with the amount of games we are playing as but Jozo will be available for the Parken Stadium on Thursday and that’s a bonus.

“We had Nir Bitton coming back at Pittodrie on Sunday and Jeremie will be available for the first time in the Europa League as well.

“We are just worried about Greg Taylor after he came off in Aberdeen with a tight hamstring, so we’ll have to assess that one.”Kennedy and Damien Duff. John has worked the whole way through with Ronny Deila and Brendan Rodgers, so he has learned a lot coaching-wise and brings a lot of knowledge to the 
systems as well.”

Lennon has been gratified by the durability of his squad during a demanding schedule since the winter break and will be further boosted by the availability of right-back 
Jeremie Frimpong, pictured left, and central defender Jozo Simunovic for the Copenhagen test after recent 
injury absences.

“I’m pleased with what I have seen with the players and I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen of the fitness 
levels as well,” he added.

“It’s a big ask with the amount of games we are playing as but Jozo will be available for the Parken Stadium on Thursday and that’s a bonus.

“We had Nir Bitton coming back at Pittodrie on Sunday and Jeremie will be available for the first time in the Europa League as well.

“We are just worried about Greg Taylor after he came off in Aberdeen with a tight hamstring, so we’ll have to assess that one.”