Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Neil Lennon sheepish as animal sacrificed ahead of Celtic's clash with Shakhter Karagandy

Celtic manager Neil Lennon
Celtic manager Neil Lennon

Celtic's culture clash with Champions League play-off opponents Shakhter Karagandy was highlighted further when Neil Lennon was asked about sacrificing sheep ahead of Tuesday night's first-leg tie in Astana.

Hours before the Scottish champions arrived at the Astana Arena for a training session on the plastic pitch, the Kazakhstan side had again killed a sheep in order to bring them good luck.

The sacrifice took place at a tunnel in the corner of the stadium before the Shakhter players were put through their paces by coach Viktor Kumykov, who was later coy about the "tradition."

The Celtic boss was asked about the home side's unusual pre-match ritual at his press conference and said: "You have to respect that.

"It is a different culture. Players have their own superstitions.

"We have a very diverse group of players from different parts of the world, different religions and you respect that.

"They have their own individual way of preparing for a game.

"The only thing we do collectively is obviously the very famous huddle before every game."

The home side will need all the luck they can get if Kumykov is to be believed.

At his press conference at the stadium earlier in the day, the Russian described Celtic as the masters in comparison to his students but the Hoops boss, who revealed there is "nothing at all" to report in terms of new signings, was not convinced.

"Obviously we have more experience than Shakhter but they are at home and they have an excellent home record," he said.

"They have already knocked out BATE Borisov who beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season so this is going to be a difficult tie."

Lennon had a joke when he was told that Kumykov had promised to give up smoking after 35 years if his side beat Celtic.

Asked if there was anything he would consider giving up for a victory, the former Celtic skipper laughed as he replied: "Well, I don't smoke.

"I would like to say I would give up alcohol (if Celtic won) but that would be a very difficult thing for me to do as well. Especially in Glasgow."

The Northern Irishman was less happy, however, when one local journalist claimed he has been quoted as saying he thought it would be an easy game in Astana.

"I don't think that is correct," he said. "I never said that.

"It will be a very difficult tie, particularly the game away from home.

"The tie is over two games and hopefully we will take some sort of result back to Glasgow.

"Our home form in the Champions League is very good over the years but we know we are in for a very difficult game.

"We are very well prepared for this tie and will give this all our concentration

"We are not taking this lightly, we are not here for a holiday.

"We are here to play hard football, we have our own incentives to qualify for the Champions League."

Lennon believes the experience of getting through the same stage of the competition last season will stand him in good stead.

He said: "I suppose after last year you are a little more comfortable.

"But it is still quite a nerve-wracking time for all us involved although we try not to let that permeate to the players.

"We are relaxed, we had a great result at the weekend against Aberdeen and the players are in good form and looking forward to the game.

"We haven't had much time to gauge but I am very happy with the way the squad has settled.

"I have liked the camaraderie between the players and the new boys have settled in very well.

"Obviously we have lost hugely influential players in Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson but we feel have acquired some very good players.

"They will take time to bed in obviously but we are very happy with the way things are going at the moment."

Lennon was asked about his interest in Schalke striker Teemu Pukki whose potential move to the Glasgow club appears to be in doubt after an injury to team-mate Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.

He said: "I don't think it will have any bearing on him coming here or not.

"We did make the offer before the Huntelaar injury so I imagine that wouldn't have helped things.

"I spoke to John Park (football development manager) late last night and he was working on a few players but no news today.

"I will probably won't know until I get back from training."

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