Belfast Telegraph

Neil Lennon cannot wait to take on his good friend Brendan Rodgers in FA Cup

By Graham Luney

Neil Lennon's biggest test in English football so far will see him take on his good mate and compatriot Brendan Rodgers in the fourth round of the FA Cup later this month.

Lennon's Bolton side will wrestle with Liverpool at Anfield after the Reds saw off AFC Wimbledon 2-1.

The match, which fans on social media are dubbing 'Antrim v Armagh,' will be a mutual appreciation society as the duo have been pals since 2009 when Rodgers was in charge of Reading and Lennon was seeking coaching experience.

Lurgan-man Lennonhas made a hugely impressive start to his managerial reign at Bolton, guiding the club six points clear of the Championship relegation zone and unlike Carnlough native Rodgers, he was able to guide a team to the Champions League last 16 after Celtic's victory over Barcelona in November, 2012. The pair faced each other in a friendly in Dublin when Celtic took on Liverpool in August, 2013 - the Hoops winning 1-0, but the Anfield showdown will have a real competitive edge.

Bolton famously defeated then FA Cup holders Liverpool 2-0 in a third round replay at Anfield in 1993.

Lennon, who will undoubtedly relish the trip to Anfield, is a huge fan of Rodgers, saying: "As a young coach in my first development year at Celtic, I went to see Brendan at Reading.

"I learned a lot. It couldn't be easy for him, thrust into the limelight like that at Liverpool, but he has handled things on the field and some serious things off the field. I think he's dealt with them very, very well."

Lennon added: “I spent a couple of days with him. You had Brian McDermott there as well. Brian was chief scout. I had two or three great days. I spoke to Brendan and learned his philosophy.

“He had a great coaching time under Jose Mourinho and then did great things at Swansea.”

Rodgers is also excited about his reunion with Lennon in the mouthwatering clash at Anfield.

The Pool boss said: “A few years ago, when I was at Reading, I got a call from Neil to ask if he could have a couple of days down at Reading for some football chat.

“That shows the determination and mindset he had to become a success. I have a great respect for him as a professional and a person. He did a wonderful job at Celtic. In the Barcelona game Neil showed all the credentials to be a top European coach. I hold him very highly.”

Bolton defeated Wigan 1-0 in the third round at the Macron Stadium while departing legend Steven Gerrard netted a brace in his side’s win at AFC Wimbledon.

Gerrard said: “Bolton in the next round will be a difficult test. Winning this competition is what dreams are made of and hopefully that will be the case.”

The Anfield clash also raises the prospect of Emile Heskey returning to his old stomping ground.

The fourth round draw sees Cambridge United, the lowest ranked club left, paired with Premier League big guns Manchester United at the Abbey Stadium.

“It’s a game to look forward to,” said Cambridge United head coach Richard Money. “It is reward for everyone’s hard work.”

Elsewhere, FA Cup holders Arsenal will travel to face Brighton & Hove Albion, now managed by former Spurs ace Chris Hughton.

There’s also a Midlands derby in store as Championship side Birmingham City will play West Bromwich Albion.

Fourth round ties are scheduled to take place over the weekend of January 24 and 25.

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