Neil Lennon says Celtic confidence never in doubt following creditable 2-2 draw in Lille

Neil Lennon says his Celtic team didn’t need to produce another significant European away performance to restore belief following a difficult period.

Neil Lennon maintained Celtic's confidence had not been dented despite a three-game winless run ahead of the morale-boosting 2-2 draw in their Europa League encounter away to Lille (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
Neil Lennon maintained Celtic's confidence had not been dented despite a three-game winless run ahead of the morale-boosting 2-2 draw in their Europa League encounter away to Lille (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

The 2-2 draw against Lille in the Europa League extends the club’s impressive recent away form in the continent - only one defeat suffered in the 11 such encounters they have faced since Lennon’s return in February 2019.

However, the inability to hold out for a victory after going into the break 2-0 up thanks to an exquisite first half double from Mohamed Elyounoussi, means Celtic are now four games without a victory.

The tied scoreline did not prevent the Group H game appearing a fill-up for the under-pressure Scottish champions. Lennon, though, maintained afterwards that Sunday’s 3-3 draw in Aberdeen, on the back of the 3-1 defeat to AC Milan and the 2-0 loss to Rangers, had not meant his team going into their French assignment feeling low.

“There has been nothing wrong with the confidence,” he said, with the major anxiety post-match a groin problem that forced off Kristoffer Ajer early in the second half. His place was taken by Nir Bitton in his first appearance since recovering from Covid-19. “We felt that we played really well in the second half against AC Milan. We then scored three goals away from home last weekend and didn’t get what we deserved.

"Now we have come away with a positive result here, even though it could have been better. I didn’t see too much lack of confidence tonight at all, in fact I thought we were very positive for the majority of the game. We looked a good side. Some of them need to get a little bit fitter. But they can only do that by getting more game time. But I’m delighted with the character the team showed tonight.”

Lille clawed their way back with a goal from a corner and Lennon admitted that another set-piece concession was the “only disappointment”. It came when Scott Bain appeared as if he might be on course for one of those nights, after a first-half penalty and another fine stop. And for Elyounoussi, the only frustration was that he could not turn two fine goals into a triple, passing up a chance for his hat-trick late on.

“I was delighted with Scott,” said Lennon. “I thought he was excellent. He’s trained well and the time between coming back in June, I think there has been a real sea change in his attitude to his work. He’s in the gym very early in the morning and he’s reaping the benefits. We put a lot of trust in him and faith, as we do in [Vasilis] Barkas as well, but Scott has done his chances no harm with another big performance. When you go away in Europe, you need your goalkeeper to play well and he stood up.

“Moi’s footwork was good, he was strong and that’s the best I’ve seen him. He looked as though he was running away from people when in some domestic games he’s looked out of sorts at times. He was absolutely tremendous. Same against Milan last week. He just needs that consistency now and to bring that to the domestic game as well. He was a real class player and a catalyst for a strong performance.”

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