Neil Lennon has appealed for more respect after he and his players were subjected to criticism following Thursday’s hard-earned 1-0 win in Latvia against FC Riga.
It was a case of job done in difficult circumstances as far as Lennon was concerned. His post-match comments reflected his satisfaction at securing a play-off round tie this Thursday night against FC Sarajevo, which once again is away from home. He described the team as having played well.
But this view only served to further irk some fans, who were unimpressed by the length of time it took to break the home side down. Supporters were concerned by the lack of creativity in midfield. Reports of the game, meanwhile, dwelt on Celtic’s difficulties in seeing off mediocre opposition.
Celtic return to home territory this afternoon when they host Hibernian. Lennon knows only too well that the visitors will present their own problems as Celtic seek to record a sixth consecutive league win.
He was full of admiration for what Jack Ross has done at his old club. “He’s done a cracking job and they have recruited well,” he said.
However, the reaction to Thursday’s night’s victory was still clearly rankling Lennon. He noted Celtic’s impressive away form in Europe since his return for a second spell as manager. They lost only once in eight trips last season.
Unusually, it was their home form that let them down. They were eliminated from Champions League qualifying after a 4-3 loss at home to CFR Cluj and went out at the last 32 stage of the Europa League after a 3-1 defeat against FC Copenhagen at Celtic Park.
Lennon viewed Thursday night’s victory as another successful assignment in what are currently very strange and often challenging circumstances.
“I wasn’t happy with some of the narratives after the game in terms of headlines where we ‘toiled’ and ‘scraped through’ – we didn’t,” he said.
“We were in total control of the game. Yes, we didn’t hammer them 3-0 or 4-0. We could have done. [Albian] Ajeti hit the post, we had another chance flash across the line, [Callum] McGregor flashed one across in the first half, the keeper made a decent save from [Ryan] Christie. It wasn’t as if we weren’t creating chances.
[Jeremie] Frimpong (inset), particularly in the second half, was a real catalyst for us going forward. We are adapting as best we can to the different protocols that are put in place,” he added.
As for Thursday’s trip to face FC Sarajevo, he revealed the game is expected to be switched to Zenica, about 70 kms north of the capital city.
Sarajevo’s Europa League third qualifying clash against Buducnost Podgorica last week, which they won 2-1, was also moved there.
With the local airport closed at night, Lennon and his players will stay an extra night before travelling back to Scotland on Friday ahead of Sunday’s clash against St Johnstone in Perth.
“We are playing in a neutral stadium, no fans and so it is just about getting the preparations right as best we can before the game,” he said. “We look forward to it. Our away form has been superb. Apart from away to Cluj last year, when we had already qualified, we have a very, very good unbeaten record in the last couple of years which delights me, because playing away from home in Europe, as I know myself, is very difficult to do.”
Lennon also defended Odsonne Edouard’s performance in Latvia. The striker looked listless throughout and was replaced with eight minutes to go by Mohamed Elyounoussi, who scored the winner in the final moments. Lennon admitted there is some “agitation” on Edouard’s part amid continued links with a move elsewhere.
“He’s a human being at the end of the day, he’s 22,” said Lennon. “We know what a talent he is. He didn’t have the best of games but we know what we’ve got with Odsonne, he’s a quality player.
“We don’t want him to go, obviously, and we have had no significant interest in him as yet. There’s always a bit of agitation when the window’s open but speaking to him he seems content enough. He didn’t have his best of games, but that’s fine.”
Lennon admitted he will take a “deep breath” when the transfer window shuts a week tomorrow. Ideally, he said, he would like to add one more player to his squad before then.
He did not reveal in which position but such a comment will not quell ongoing speculation about Edouard’s future prior to next week’s deadline.