Neil Lennon apologises to Saints’ Tommy Wright

Celtic boss Neil Lennon has apologised to St Johnstone counterpart Tommy Wright for publicly discussing one of his players - but insists he was right to claim Perth striker Steven MacLean went down easily against the Hoops on Saturday.
Neil Lennon: Apologised to St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. Picture: SNSNeil Lennon: Apologised to St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon: Apologised to St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright. Picture: SNS

But they survived a late penalty scare when MacLean hit the deck following a challenge by Anthony Stokes.

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Referee Alan Muir waved away the St Johnstone appeals, while Lennon claimed MacLean “has a tendency to go down easy at times”.

That angered Wright, who felt Lennon - a close friend - should not be talking about his players.

But the Celtic boss said: “I just said in that instance that it was not a penalty, that he went down easily. Having watched it on numerous occasions, then yeah, I think he did.

“If I have annoyed Tommy - and he’s a very good friend - then I apologise to Tommy. We were talking about a specific incident in the game that may have changed the course of the game. I called it as I saw it. There was no offence meant.

“I don’t remember calling Steven a diver. I never have called anyone a diver in the game.”

Lennon was, however, unhappy with Stanley Menzo - boss of Belgian outfit Lierse SK - for criticising on-loan Hoops striker Tony Watt for his lack of fitness and work rate.

The Parkhead manager agreed that Watt - who famously struck the winning goal against Barcelona last year - still has to prove himself as a top-rate frontman but insisted any criticism should have been kept in house.

“I haven’t seen Tony play for a while but the reason he has gone on loan is to get experience,” said Lennon. “He is a bit short of physical conditioning, but that is down to Tony himself. He has to apply himself better.

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“I’m disappointed that Stanley has made it public obviously, but he has felt the need to do that. Hopefully Tony will take that on board and progress the way we want him to progress.

“It’s essential of someone of his age to want to get better. He has come off the bench and scored and that will give him a huge shot in the arm. Hopefully he will kick on from that.

“Has he been hindered by the goal against Barcelona? Physiologically maybe. The first thing I said after that game was that I don’t want it to be a millstone around his neck. He has got the talent and the raw ingredients to be a top player. But he just needs to polish those off.

“He will be remembered forever as the guy who scored that goal, but that doesn’t mean he can’t go on and have a good career.”

Lennon - who has handed a trial to Uruguayan striker Nicolas Mezquida - also distanced himself from reports suggesting he was among the favourites to replace Paolo di Canio as Sunderland boss following the Italian’s sacking late on Sunday.

“I don’t like answering questions on this kind of thing,” said Lennon. “I’m not aware of me being linked with anything. You are asking the wrong person. Maybe you should ask the people linking me with the jobs. I’m not aware of who they are. I’m very, very happy doing what I’m doing at the minute.”

Celtic will kick-off their bid to land the Scottish League Cup for the first time since 2009 with a third-round tie against Morton at Parkhead.

Lennon is desperate to land the only domestic trophy he has so far yet to win, although he does expect to alter his team after their weekend exertions against St Johnstone.

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The Northern Irishman said: “The League Cup was the first competition that I won as a player here and first I won as a captain, so it does have some significance for me personally.

“We have only won the trophy 14 times. Even if you go back to Mr Stein’s time, it’s not been a competition that we have dominated. But it’s a competition that we are in and one that we want to win.

“There are a few players who will need a break and we will change the team from the weekend. But they won’t be drastic changes and we will treat Morton with the respect they deserve.”