Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Celtic tipped to give Benfica a Euro headache

Neil Lennon

Celtic have been backed to respond from their loss at St Johnstone and make a strong start to their Champions League campaign.

Neil Lennon's men lost 2-1 in Perth in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League on Saturday and host Benfica tomorrow night in their first match of Group G, which also features Barcelona and Spartak Moscow.

Speaking at a Tesco Bank Football Challenge event at Hampden Park, former Celtic midfielder Paul Hartley said: “Celtic are coming off the back of a bad result against St Johnstone.

“They will forget about that and make sure they're ready for Wednesday night.

“It will be an important game for Celtic. If you can have a strong home performance then hopefully it will stand you in good stead.

“It's a difficult group. There are quality teams there, but Celtic are in there on merit. They've shown they can go away from home now and win in Europe.

“It will be a great atmosphere. Champions League nights are always special and I'm sure Neil will have his team ready.

“Hopefully they can get a good result on Wednesday, get on the board with a good three points and take it from there,” added the Alloa Athletic manager.

Celtic return to the Champions League this week as Old Firm rivals Rangers take on Queen of the South in the Ramsdens Cup tonight.

But former Northern Ireland international Lennon isn’t sitting comfortably in the Parkhead hotseat at the moment and ex-Hoops favourite Murdo MacLeod says the players must stand up and be counted.

“The time has come for this Celtic side to have a right good look at themselves in the mirror,” he said.

“Wednesday night against Benfica in the Champions League is a crucial moment in the club’s history.

“After a four-year absence from the groups, Celtic have the opportunity to prove their name still means something on Europe’s centre stage.

“However, Neil Lennon’s side will be incapable of showing that’s the case if they play anything like they did at Perth. They were terrible.

“What happened at McDiarmid Park wasn’t a systems failure. It was an attitude problem so bad it cost Celtic the match.

“Saints dug in. Celtic opted out. That can’t happen again because, with the greatest respect to Steve Lomas’ side, Benfica will be better.

“Victory is essential if Celtic are to build a platform towards making the last 16. Nothing else will do in my opinion.

“But if the team defends as poorly as Perth, they’ll be caught out badly.”