‘I’ll vigorously defend cup final charge’ says unrepentant Celtic boss Neil Lennon

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS
Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS
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CELTIC manager Neil Lennon intends to “vigorously defend” himself against an SFA charge which could potentially trigger a £5,000 fine from the governing body.

Lennon has confirmed receipt of a letter from SFA Compliance Officer Vincent Lunny asking him to explain his comments after last Sunday’s League Cup Final defeat against Kilmarnock at Hampden.

He branded referee Willie Collum’s denial of Celtic’s stoppage time penalty claim as a “criminal decision” which “cost us the treble”. The comments appear to fall foul of Rule 68 of the SFA’s new Judicial Panel Protocol which covers post-match criticism of match officials indicating “incompetence”.

Lennon already has a suspended £5,000 fine from the SFA, which expires on 30 June this year, for describing referee Craig Thomson’s decision to send off Joe Ledley during a match against Hearts at Tynecastle last season as “scandalous”. He has until next Friday to respond to the SFA over his latest criticism of a referee and made it clear yesterday than he will stand by his remarks.

“I spoke to Vincent Lunny on the phone yesterday when the letter came through,” said Lennon. “I will submit my response by 30 March and I will defend my case vigorously. I don’t even think I need to be up there but Vincent and the SFA see it a different way. So I’ll be quite happy to go and defend my case.

“I’m not going to go into now, because I can’t. But there are one or two quotes that they felt might be against the rules, whatever rule it is. I don’t know. So I asked him if he had looked at the whole interview. He said he had. There are mitigating circumstances within the context of the interview. But people only want to talk about my criticism of the decision, rather than look at the whole context of the interview.”

Lennon remains upset by Collum’s decision to book Celtic striker Anthony Stokes for simulation when he went down in the area under a challenge from Kilmarnock defender Michael Nelson in the closing stages of the Hampden final. He believes it is an unmerited slight on the manner in which his team conduct themselves.

“Anthony has been accused of being a diver this week, which I can’t really tolerate,” added Lennon. “This team has got the best disciplinary record in the league. One thing we are not is cheats. We are pretty honest. We play the game the right way.

“I still maintain it was a penalty kick. I’ve seen photographic evidence to prove that. I didn’t need to, because I saw it about four times from different angles before I was interviewed after the game. I’m convinced it was a penalty.”

Celtic will attempt to put the disappointment of failing to win the first silverware of the season behind them by winning tomorrow’s Old Firm game at Ibrox. If Motherwell fail to beat Kilmarnock at Rugby Park today, then victory for Lennon’s men against Rangers would secure the SPL title.

Lennon, who has injury doubts over winger James Forrest and striker Gary Hooper, insists Celtic will temper any celebrations if that scenario comes to pass. “The last thing we want to do is rub it in people’s faces,” he said. “We won’t be there to gloat. We will be respectful of everyone at the stadium. We don’t want to cause any trouble and there’s plenty of time if we do win it on Sunday to celebrate in the up and coming games.

“We had the police up on Wednesday, we had a chat with the head of the police organisation about the game on Sunday but not with regards post-match celebrations. I think he just wants to make sure that the game goes as well as it possibly can go which I totally understand.”