Neil Lennon thrilled that Celtic passed ‘mental and physical’ tests in Perth
Neil Lennon praised both the mental and physical strength of his Celtic players as they bounced back from their Europa League exit to keep their bid for a fourth consecutive domestic treble on course.
The Scottish champions came through a gruelling Scottish Cup quarter-final against St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park, with Ryan Christie scoring the only goal of the game with nine minutes remaining.
Celtic will now face Aberdeen in the semi-final at Hampden next month when they will be hot favourites to extend a winning sequence in domestic cup football which now stretches to 34 ties.
Lennon was thrilled by the response of his team after the crushing disappointment of their 3-1 defeat at home by Copenhagen on Thursday night, which saw them knocked out of the Europa League at the last-32 stage for a third successive year.
“That’s 34 straight wins in the cups and that’s amazing,” said the Celtic manager. “It can go at any time so they want to keep it running as long as they can and they are coming up against all sorts of opposition and they’re dealing with it.
“They’ve faced some difficult opposition – and today was difficult, mentally and physically after Thursday. They have picked themselves up again on a really heavy pitch and came through it unscathed.
“The good thing was the players didn’t have long to dwell on the Copenhagen defeat. It was only a couple of minutes in the game on Thursday that they let themselves down, a couple of basic mistakes.
“I didn’t think we got what we deserved on Thursday, I thought we were the better team. But we got punished for lackadaisical mistakes which is not like us. That’s Europe gone for this season and we still have a lot to play for domestically.
“The players’ concentration levels were good today and their fitness levels were good too. Some of them were out on their feet at the end which is understandable.
“You know what? They are human beings and they can’t keep churning out result after result and performance after performance. People expect that of them but it’s not easy.
“There is a good core there and they just will not leave it. There’s something in them that they just want to keep it going.”
There was initial dubiety over the identity of Celtic’s goalscorer with suggestions that Christopher Jullien had got a slight touch on Christie’s free-kick before the ball flew beyond Zander Clark. But the French defender admitted afterwards that the credit belonged to Christie.
It was a frustrating afternoon for St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright who felt his team’s display merited a replay.
“I thought the performance was better than good,” said Wright. “We pushed Celtic all the way and we should have done enough to get a draw. But we haven’t defended a set play and that’s cost us in the end.
“I’m extremely proud of their performance but ultimately we are out of the cup because we didn’t defend a set play.
“We thought we had weathered the storm in the second half when Celtic started it better than us. But we had chances of our own, good opportunities, and were a real attacking threat throughout the game. We knew we would have to work hard, but we have gone toe-to-toe with the best team in the country for a long time and just fallen short.”
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