Neil Lennon expects new striker for next round

Celtic Manager Neil Lennon congratulates Efe Ambrose. Picture: PACeltic Manager Neil Lennon congratulates Efe Ambrose. Picture: PA
Celtic Manager Neil Lennon congratulates Efe Ambrose. Picture: PA
CELTIC manager Neil Lennon revealed last night that he expects to have all of his big guns (and some fresh artillery) at his disposal for the vital first leg of the club’s next Champions League qualifying round tie at Parkhead a week today.

Gary Hooper, a transfer target for Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers, came off the bench to improve his match fitness in last night’s 2-0 victory over Cliftonville which wrapped up a 5-0 aggregate win. His 25 minutes of action will precipitate his recovery from a groin strain. Adam Matthews, Charlie Mulgrew and Joe Ledley are also ready to stake a claim for a place against Swedish champions Elfsborg but Lennon also intends to add another striker before tomorrow night’s signing deadline for next week’s meeting.

Read the Celtic v Cliftonville match report hereHamburg’s Latvian international, Artjoms Rudnevs, is his preferred target. The Bundesliga club have cash-flow issues and selling the 25-year-old for £5 million would allow them to make a £6m bid for Everton’s Nikica Jelavic.The player’s wages may prove prohibitive for the Scottish champions but Lennon is also interested in Saber Khelifa, 26, of Evian, a £3m-rated Tunisia striker who has refused to return for pre-season training.Montpellier pulled out of a move for the player, whom Lennon watched in last season’s French Cup final defeat to Bordeaux. “We have made inroads on another striker, but there is nothing to say on that for now,” Lennon confirmed. While it looks increasingly likely that family reasons will see defender Kelvin Wilson return to Nottingham Forest (if the price is right and the club rejected an offer yesterday) Lennon remained upbeat about Hooper.“There have been no further developments with him that I’m aware of,” he said. “I spoke with him today and he didn’t give me an indication either way as to what he was thinking so I suppose no news is good news.“Listen, if I’ve got him here for next week then I’ll be delighted. It’s a better squad with Gary in it.”While admitting that his players had not pulled up any trees in their perfunctory performance against Cliftonville, Lennon remained satisfied with his preparations.“You can’t have everything in the first game,” he reasoned. “We had 30 attempts at goal so our shooting wasn’t the best: we were obviously a bit rusty in that department. But the back four are looking really good at the minute. That’s two clean sheets and another game under our belts, which is important ahead of Elfsborg next week.“I want to see a lot of improvement for that game. We’ll need to be better, better with our movement, crisper with our passing and a little more clinical in front of goal. How big a step-up will it be for Elfsborg? If Helsingborg last season are any barometer then it will be a big one.“I’m going to have them watched at the weekend and we’ll try and cover everything that we possibly can between now and Wednesday.“We’ll try to take the game to Elfsborg and put them under pressure and a clean sheet would be a huge bonus.“But with this team and these players we know we can go away from home even if the result in the first leg isn’t brilliant and the tie is in the balance. We know we can go there and get a result – we’ve experienced that before. What happened last season will stand them in good stead for what’s coming up.”On the day Uefa revealed that reaching the last 16 of club football’s most lucrative competition last season had earned the club £20.4m in prize money alone, the importance of qualification for the group phase did not need to be stressed.“I think the money is imperative for us, but from my point of view it’s the development of the players and the experience they get to bring on their careers that is important to me,” said Lennon.“The more successful you are the more the money comes your way in terms of gates receipts, sponsorship etc. It went well for us last year but there’s no guarantee that we’ll get there this year.“We’ll need to step things up in the next week to be ready for Elfsborg. I know how important it is but I can’t build my whole season on the Champions league.”Despite a drop in the value of the Scottish television deal of around 13 per cent, reaching the last 16 of the Champions League secured notable extra income as well as obvious prestige. Celtic’s fee for reaching last season’s group stage was a whopping £7.4m. On top of that came a performance bonus of £3 million based on their results against Benfica, Spartak Moscow and Barcelona. Their share of marketing and television revenue was £7m, whilst a reward of £3m was earned for progressing from the group phase before they were knocked out by Juventus.Celtic manager Neil Lennon said: “It’s not just about the money, it’s the whole environment the Champions League brings – the development of players, the atmosphere for supporters.”In 2011, Rangers earned £15.9m but did not make it into the knockout round.English clubs’ earnings from last season’s Champions League were dwarfed by those in Italy, Spain and Germany.The four Premier League representatives – Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City – earned between £30.5 million and £24.7 million each. That’s almost half the income of top-earning club Juventus, who received a record £55.9 million in TV money and bonuses from Uefa.Cliftonville manager Tommy Breslin was glad his side left Glasgow with their pride intact. He said: “We had a go at Solitude last week but tonight was about damage limitation.“There was always a fear that we were going to be lambs to the slaughter but they stood up well and their pride wasn’t going to let them down.“I am proud that I have represented Cliftonville in Champions League and played at Celtic Park.”Meanwhile, the honorary chairman of the Celtic Football and Athletic Club, John Keane, will unfurl the league flag along with Celtic plc chairman Ian Bankier at Parkhead on Saturday, 3 August, before the champions kick-off the defence of their title against Ross County. Keane told the club website: “I am truly honoured to be asked to unfurl the SPL Champions flag on 3 August. I have been a Celtic supporter all of my life and have enjoyed many thrilling matches and occasions. However, this will be one of my proudest moments.”Bankier said: “It is a huge honour to be unfurling the flag with such a great Celtic man as John Keane. I hope the supporters will take this opportunity to applaud the contribution of a great Celtic man, and a great Mayo man, to the club’s history, particularly at the point where its very survival was in doubt.”