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Lennon gutted as Celts exit Europe

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon is hoping Celtic fans do not compound the disappointment of last night's Europa League exit by landing the club in the dock again for incidents before the 1-1 draw with Udinese at the Stadio Friuli.

Celtic had been fined £12,700 by Uefa this week after the Hoops fans were reported for “illicit chanting” in a previous Europa League fixture against Rennes at Parkhead.

It perhaps was not the best time for the small band of travelling fans to unfurl a banner which was derogatory in its sentiments towards European football's governing body and the flare that was thrown onto the running track before the game could lead to an investigation.

The Celtic boss, who described the result as “gut wrenching,” said: “I am not aware of that.

“I didn't see the flare before the game so I will have to wait and see what the outcome is.

“From where I was it looked like the supporters behaved themselves impeccably and I hope that (possible trouble) is not going to be the case.”

The visitors, needing a victory in the final Group I fixture to go through into the knockout stages of the competition, took the lead in the 29th minute when Gary Hooper took advantage of a mix-up in the Udinese defence to tap in from a yard out.

But veteran striker Antonio Di Natale notched from close range with seconds remaining in the first half after Celtic defender Cha Du-ri inadvertently headed the ball into his path.

A clearly disappointed Lennon pointed to two penalty incidents against the Italian club, currently behind Juventus only on goal difference at the top of Serie A, which he claims made the difference over the course of the campaign.

He said: “If you look over the piece, the penalty that Udinese got at Celtic Park (in a 1-1 draw) was probably the difference. It was a joke of a decision.

“And I thought we should have had a penalty tonight right at the end when Daniel Majstorovic headed the ball onto the centre-half's arm.

“From where I was standing it wad a clear hand ball and there may have been one earlier.

“It wasn't ball to hand, I don't understand why he didn't give it although I thought the referee had a decent game and allowed it to flow.”

The former Celtic skipper, however, would not let his obvious dejection totally negate the pride he had in his side.

He said: “It was up there with some of the best performances in my management time, certainly away from home in Europe against probably the best team that I have faced.

“All credit to Udinese, you can see why they are up there, but we feel we are a pretty good side ourselves. I take a lot of positives from the game.

“From the first whistle to the death I though we were fantastic as a team, I thought there were some wonderful performances.

“To come over here and play a team who are at the top of Serie A and take the game to them and play the football we played and create the chances we created, I can't speak highly enough of the team.

“We have to transmit that from European football to domestic honours.”

Cha almost made amends for his mistake which led to the Udinese goal when he sent a volley against the post to keep hearts in mouths but ultimately the Italians held on.

“I was very proud of the team, everyone made a fantastic contribution and with a bit of luck we'd have gone through,” added Lennon

“We hit the post, we had one cleared off the line..

“In terms of chances it was was almost as good as we've played.

“To come away from home, to Italy of all places and play like that was good to see.”

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster was key to keeping Celtic's hopes alive with a string of fine saves and Lennon likened the on-loan Newcastle man to a former Hoops favourite.

“We had Artur Boruc a couple of years ago and in Forster, I think we've found another one like that,” said Lennon.

“There were some top-class saves. You need your goalkeeper like that.”

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