Neil Lennon says Celtic's Scottish Cup final rivals Hearts should have been kept in top flight

Neil Lennon believes his Celtic side should be facing up to a top flight Hearts’ team in Sunday’s Scottish Cup final. And that they will be in all but official status.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon says Hearts counterpart Robbie Neilson will point his club back towards a Premiership they should never have been ejected from amid the covid crisis (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The Irishman believes the forced ejection of the Tynecastle club from the Premiership in the aftermath of the game being shutdown in March by the Covid-19 global pandemic warrants “sympathy” - and didn’t need to be imposed on a club only four points off second bottom with eight games then still remaining.

Asked if he had sympathy for Hearts that they have had to operate in the Championship this season, Lennon said: “Yeah, of course. I thought there may have been another way around things. But the clubs took the vote that it was the best way forward, to take the game forward, but yeah, I had sympathy for Hearts. I think they’re now good enough to come out of the Championship at the first attempt. They have an excellent manager [in Robbie Neilson] who has done it before with them. He knows the club and they play a good brand of football. They have recruited well with International and ex-international players.

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“They have ex-Premier League players for this, and for me, the cup final is as tough a game as we could expect at this level. They have Steven Naismith, Andy Halliday and Oli Lee who has played for a Premier League club, and Liam Boyce, who is an international striker. And of course they have Craig Gordon, who was an outstanding player here. He won many times and has experience of winning the competition as well as winning leagues.

“With recent results they’ll be confident and will play with belief. So I’m not taking anything for granted. I would never dream of talking down any opposition. We have seen this week [with Rangers’ League Cup loss] how difficult cup competitions can be for all teams. That’s what makes this run that we’ve been on through the last three or four years absolutely remarkable. You know, it’s absolutely remarkable [to be one win away from a quadruple treble]. We’re now in another final and we’re hell-bent on winning it. We’re motivated to win it - as will Hearts - and it’s set up to be a very good game.”

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