Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Europa League: Celtic on brink of exit

Celtic's James Forrest, Beram Kayal and Glenn Loovens react after conceding a goal during the UEFA Europa League match at Celtic Park, Glasgow

Celtic 0 Athletico Madrid 1: Neil Lennon has not given up hope of Celtic progressing to the last 32 of the Europa League with a win away to Udinese later this month although he admits it will be a “tall order”.

lennon IS LEFT TO FEAR THE WORST AS SPANISH DELIVER HAMMER BLOWLonely walk: James Forrest, Beram Kayal and Glenn Loovens stare down the barrel of another defeat last night as Celtic’s 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid leaves them sweating on their Europa League future

An Arda Turan strike in the 29th minute was enough to give Atletico Madrid the three points at Parkhead in their penultimate Group I fixture last night and secure the Spanish club's progress.

The Hoops now have to beat the Italian club on December 15 to leapfrog them into second place but Celtic have won only once away from home in Europe in eight years — against Dinamo Moscow in 2009.

“It's a tall order,” said Lennon. “Udinese are an excellent side and we haven't won away from home in a long while but we will give it everything we've got.

“I thought we matched them for most of the game if not better them. It was an excellent performance and I thought we deserved better from it.”

Asked if he would have accepted his situation at the start of the campaign, Lennon said: “Of course. Going into the group we probably have been the underdog out of the four teams.

“I have seen a gradual progression and improvement in all the performances and it is a great stage to play on for these players.

“They came up against an excellent side who defended and counter-attacked very well but I can only give credit to the players for having a good go at it.

“You have to be mindful of Udinese, I would imagine that they would be on the front foot from the off in Italy but we will go for it, as we did tonight.”

Celtic had more than held their own until Turkey international Turan picked up a Daniel Majstorovic clearance from a Diego corner 20 yards from goal and fired back in past Fraser Forster.

Substitute Gary Hooper, an interval replacement for Victor Wanyama, had the ball in the net after the break only to see it chalked off with an Anthony Stokes handball apparently the reason, although amid some confusion there were also suggestions of offside.

The Celtic boss claimed the decision was “unfortunate” and was also calm about the loss of the goal despite skipper Beram Kayal appearing to duck to avoid Turan's strike.

Lennon claimed the midfielder might have misjudged the flight of the ball and that keeper Forster did not see it until late.

Forster was not blaming his team-mate either despite admitting the Israel international had ducked out of the way.

He said: “He has obviously ducked but there were plenty of other things that we could have done better leading up to that so as a team it is disappointing.

“Beram has been fantastic for us all season and he is a great player. There are probably about 10 things that should have been done differently.

“I got a decent touch and on another day that should stay out.”

Once again Lennon was left counting the cost of injuries.

Joe Ledley, playing at left-back again, was carried off in the first half while midfielder Wanyama stayed inside at the interval and both are doubtful for the trip to Dundee United on Sunday.

The former Celtic skipper said: “It is a twist on the ankle for Joe so he will be doubtful for Sunday. We will have to see how he is but I don't think it is anything too serious.

“Victor picked up a dead leg and he was struggling with it the last 10 or 15 minutes of the first half so again he could be doubtful for the weekend.”

Lennon denied that Hooper, who scored a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over St Mirren at the weekend, was dropped with the United game in mind.

“No, we wanted to match them in midfield,” he said.

“I was concerned that we would get outnumbered in that middle area where Diego might have been able to make use of the extra man so we decided to match them up and for the first half-hour, as I said, we were excellent.”

Atletico boss Gregorio Manzano was pleased his side were not made to pay for missed chances.

He said: “The most important thing was winning.

“It was difficult to come here and win but if we could have scored more goals it might not have been so anxious for us.”

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