Neil Lennon would welcome chance to take Celtic to Ibrox in League Cup

A ONCE-GREAT rivalry has been reduced to second guessing a cup draw. Yesterday, Celtic manager Neil Lennon happily played along.

• Rangers 2 - 0 victory over Motherwell means they join Celtic in the quarter finals draw which takes place on October 4

He was hardly going to do otherwise after his Rangers counterpart Ally McCoist had appeared bullish by responding enthusiastically when asked if he would embrace his reconstituted Third Division side landing a first major derby encounter as the prize for dismissing Motherwell in their Scottish Communities League Cup last 16 tie.

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Frankly, what Scottish society, never mind Scottish football, does not need right now is the volcano of rancour that would erupt over the pair meeting for the first time since the Ibrox club’s collapse forced them to start again in the fourth tier of the senior game.

Yet, in terms of the psychological warfare that has been ramped up between the two clubs despite their separation, Lennon could not let it appear he had any concerns – footballing or otherwise – over a quickfire revival of the fixture. “A game like that is good for the game at any time. I would welcome it, if that’s who we draw. But I would welcome Dundee United, if that’s who we draw. Or Inverness, or St Mirren,” he said. Asked if he would fancy going to Ibrox for next month’s quarter-final, he didn’t hesitate offering up: “Yes, I’d take this team anywhere.”

Celtic will be chasing Scottish Premier League leaders Motherwell when the side’s meet tomorrow, in what will be the Glasgow club’s first 3pm Saturday away game in the league since 2005. “I’ll be able to get a lie in,” Lennon said. He will also be able to sleep easier over personnel numbers with his squad likely to be up to just about its full complement – on the weekend before a Champions League trip to face Spartak Moscow.

The most welcome returnee on a list that includes Miku, though not Lassad, was Georgios Samaras. The Greek striker trained yesterday with a light cast on his arm to protect the damaged ligaments and chipped elbow bone he suffered on international duty three weeks ago. “If we can get him some game time we will,” said Lennon. “The cast is very light but it won’t really be tested until he gets a whack on it or falls on it and we’ll see what sort of reaction he gets.”

Lennon is wary about the possible reaction Celtic will face from a Fir Park team who seemed to play without a collective pulse in allowing their League Cup ambitions to expire at Ibrox on Wednesday night. “Whether or not Stuart [McCall] gets a positive or negative reaction after last night I don’t know, but I don’t know if that performance would have done us any favours,” said Lennon. “I’m sure they’ll be pretty motivated to play better than they did last night. They have started the season very well. They were pretty impressive against Aberdeen at the weekend and to score three goals up at Aberdeen takes some doing. They would have been disappointed to have dropped points so late there and I’m sure he’ll have been disappointed with the second half last night.”

The dilemma for the Celtic manager will be who to drop from the midfield after Tuesday night’s 4-1 League Cup win over Raith Rovers. Expected new centre-back Efe Ambrose looked mightily at home in the centre of the park and Kayal and

Ledley are fit again to challenge the rested Scott Brown and Wanyama. “We’re spoiled for choice but I’m delighted by it,” Lennon said.

The team’s lacklustre effort in Perth the other week means he will never again allow his team to be distracted by Champions League bright lights.

“What I will do is just put up St Johnstone’s name before every game as a reminder that, if you’re not right or don’t want to play every game in the right way, you’ll get beaten,” Lennon said.