Celtic's Neil Lennon wary of old Euro woes
Published 28/07/2010 | 08:53
Neil Lennon has warned his Celtic players not to fall into the same trap he did against Artmedia Bratislava when they face Braga in their opening Champions League qualifier tonight.
The Hoops' 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Slovakian minnows Artmedia five years ago was one of the worst nights of Lennon's Parkhead playing career.
The former midfielder helped Celtic salvage some pride in the return leg of that second qualifying round tie with a 4-0 win, but it was not enough to prevent the Hoops crashing out of Europe.
The Artmedia debacle was Gordon Strachan's first competitive match in charge of Celtic, while tonight’s clash will be Lennon's European debut as manager.
The rookie Northern Irishman knows he cannot afford to get off to a similar start if Celtic's dream of reaching the lucrative Champions League group stage is to remain intact.
“Bratislava's a warning,” he said.
“We don't want to give ourselves too much to do going back to Celtic Park.
“Our home record at Celtic Park is very, very good. So we know that if we can take some sort of result back to Scotland, we'll be pleased with that.”
On paper, Celtic face a much tougher task than they did five years ago. For so long in the shadow of Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto, Braga stormed to second place in the Portuguese league last season.
Their success was built on home form which saw them take 43 from a possible 45 points in front of their own fans.
“We've done a little bit of homework on Braga, as much as we could,” said Lennon. “We know they were very consistent last year in the Portuguese league. We'll be up against it no doubt.”
Indeed, Celtic's European away form is as bad as Braga's domestic home record is good.
Tonight will provide the first indication whether Lennon is capable of solving the riddle of the club's travel sickness.
“I hope so. It's obviously something we've not been able to do on a consistent basis,” he said.
“We've had minimum success in the UEFA Cup and Champions League. It's hard to put a finger on it because our home form's so good. Hopefully, we can turn that around. We need to be at our best: 90 minutes concentration, and we need to be disciplined as well.”
Fresh blood appears to be the first step towards achieving that aim, with Lennon strongly hinting at a much-changed side to that which finished last season.
“It'll be pretty different, yeah —but I'm not going to give anything away,” said the 39-year-old, who made Gary Hooper his sixth summer signing yesterday.
“I'm not going to talk about the team and who I'm going to pick and who's going to start.”
Lennon is confident whoever is selected will cope with the searing Portuguese heat, with temperatures pushing 40 degrees Celsius.
“I think it'll be cooler later on in the evening,” said Lennon, whose side have just returned from a tour of North America.
“It was pretty humid and hot over there and the guys adapted to those conditions as well as they could. So I don't think the heat will be a major issue for us.”