FORMER Celtic manager Martin O’Neill believes protégé Neil Lennon’s achievement in leading the Parkhead side into the last 16 of the Champions League is all the more remarkable given the decline in strength of the SPL.
Celtic qualified for the knockout stages against the odds after beating Barcelona and doing the double over Spartak Moscow. O’Neill led Celtic to the Uefa Cup final but could not make the breakthrough to the Champions League knockout stages. And he believes Lennon, his skipper at Leicester and Parkhead, deserves enormous credit for doing so in tougher financial times for the SPL, which lost Rangers in the summer.
The Sunderland manager said: “That was a fantastic achievement. With the SPL maybe not as strong as it was a couple of years ago, their performances in Europe are even more remarkable. I thought qualifying for the group stages was still a great achievement, they had to knock out the Swedish champions (Helsingborg). To get through that group is just remarkable, it’s absolutely fantastic. Well done to the club and well done to Neil Lennon.”
Paul Lambert, meanwhile, said Celtic could put more accent on chasing Champions League glory now they no longer face competition from Rangers at domestic level. Ex-Celtic midfielder Lambert, a Champions League winner with Borussia Dortmund, admired how Lennon’s side coped with the pressure of having to beat Spartak Moscow to reach the knockout stages.
The Aston Villa manager said: “Celtic have done outstanding to get through. The group they had to get through was incredibly hard. The pressure on them the other night was monumental against Spartak and to deliver the result was fantastic.
“Will there be more accent on Europe with no Rangers? I think so. Maybe the league is not as strong as what it was but to do what they have done in Europe is a fabulous achievement.”