Turn the anger into a treble - Neil Lennon’s message to Celtic players

Neil Lennon has urged his 
Celtic players to use the smouldering fury at their Europa League exit as fuel for their bid to complete a fourth consecutive domestic treble.

Celtic players look stunned after their 3-1 defeat by Copenhagen at Parkhead as they crashed out of the Europa League at the last-32 stage for the third year in a row. Picture Ian MacNicol/Getty
Celtic players look stunned after their 3-1 defeat by Copenhagen at Parkhead as they crashed out of the Europa League at the last-32 stage for the third year in a row. Picture Ian MacNicol/Getty

The Scottish champions were left stunned by their 3-1 defeat at home to Copenhagen on Thursday night which saw them crash out of the Europa League at the last-32 stage for the third year in a row.

Celtic’s wait to win a post-group stage knockout tie in Europe for the first time since 2004 continues and the 4-2 aggregate loss to the Danish club is the first setback Lennon’s squad have experienced in 2020.

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By contrast, their form on the home front has been flawless since the winter break with ten consecutive wins in domestic fixtures leaving them firmly on course for a quadruple treble.

That ambition goes on the line at McDiarmid Park tomorrow when Celtic face 
St Johnstone in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup and Lennon is anticipating a highly motivated display from his team.

“I’m hoping I get a reaction from our players after Thursday night and I’m sure I will,” said the Celtic manager.

“I hope they’re angry – and when they play angry, they can be very good. They had Friday off and now they need to get their minds refocused on trying to retain the Scottish Cup.

“But I’m looking for a reaction, that’s for sure. We have to channel the Copenhagen defeat now. It’s my job to make sure we do that.

“I have a duty of care to these players too, because they have been magnificent for me. They have given me everything. I’m still bitterly disappointed to have gone out on Thursday but we have to get over that 
quickly because we only have ourselves to blame for what happened.

“We were in control of that game and gave the impetus away through our own fault – it was just crazy.”

Lennon believes the evening may have panned out differently had Portuguese referee Artur Dias not penalised Celtic
defender Christopher Jullien for a challenge on Copenhagen goalkeeper Karl-Johan Johnsson just before Callum McGregor rifled a shot into the roof of the net early in the second half when the match was still goalless.

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The visitors then seized upon Jozo Simunovic’s error to take the lead through Michael Santos and Celtic were unable to recover the situation, even after Odsonne Edouard levelled from the penalty spot, as late goals from Pep Biel and Dame N’Doye killed the tie.

“I wondered why Callum’s goal wasn’t allowed, even at the time,” said Lennon. “That would have put us in the ascendency and it was a great finish from Callum so I was very disappointed with that decision.

“The ball had already gone beyond their goalkeeper and had been headed away when he went down.

“But we then got a definite penalty and I was thinking ‘Great, we’ve got what we deserved.’ That came after making a mistake for their first goal.

“If we couldn’t win the tie in the 90 minutes, we should have been taking it to extra time, but our game-management after that was really poor.

“We needed to calm down but I was trying to say that to the players for the whole of the second half.

“We got too anxious and started chasing the game too much. We just needed to manage the game after scoring the penalty and be composed but we did the exact opposite.

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“We looked leggy late on too but I think that’s psychological, I really do. The third goal is academic after the second goal which was the ice-breaker.”

Aside from his coolly converted penalty kick, Celtic’s top scorer Edouard was not at his effective best for much of the evening. But Lennon insists the onus shouldn’t be on the French striker to be Celtic’s saviour every time.

“It can’t always be down to Odsonne,” said Lennon. “I thought Mohamed Elyounoussi was bright on Thursday and Tom Rogic was too. We created some good chances
but just lacked punch in the first half.

“I was actually quite pleased with the first-half performance. Copenhagen defended
well and their goalkeeper made some good saves.

“We were forcing the game the way I wanted them to and I said to them at half-time that if they could just keep a clean sheet they were through. But then we made a glaring error before shooting ourselves in the foot at the end.

“I just didn’t see that coming. It’s been a good Euro campaign overall – I think we’ve made really good strides.

“That’s the most disappointing aspect of going out, when you think of the calibre of teams we’ve beaten.

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“But when you give away goals the way we did on Thursday, then it’s tough. I just didn’t think Copenhagen deserved anything out of the game but we were punished by mistakes of our own making.”

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