Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Lennon: Let’s make Celtic Euro dream a reality

Neil Lennon

Neil Lennon is battling against expectation and assumption ahead of Celtic's Champions League play-off against Helsingborg at Parkhead tonight.

The Hoops are 2-0 up from the first leg in Sweden, with most people believing the return game in Glasgow to be no more than a formality.

Perhaps the Celtic boss was worried defender Thomas Rogne, skipper Scott Brown, striker Georgios Samaras and midfielder Kris Commons, who all missed Saturday's 4-2 league win at Inverness, will fail fitness tests and leave his squad stretched to the limit as Lennon was at pains to stress that the tie was far from over.

“I am sitting here a lot more comfortable than I would be if it was 0-0 or 1-1 or we were chasing the game,” he said.

“We are at home but we know the tie is not over yet.

“I am not getting ahead of myself. We still have to qualify against a very good, motivated Helsingborg team. I can't look too far ahead. Football has a funny way of kicking you when you think you have cracked it.

“We have prepared as low-key as we possibly can for this game because we know there is a lot of hype surrounding it and we are trying to protect the players from it. Really, we just want to get the game started.”

Defender Charlie Mulgrew sang from the same hymn sheet as Lennon as he revealed his gaffer has warned against complacency.

“Nobody in that dressing room thinks the tie is done,” he said.

“The manager has drilled that home to us that we can't get complacent, it is only half-time and there is a long way to go.

“Of course the mind is wandering, thinking of who you could play but you have to try your best not to do that and to do the job first.

“We are not thinking we are |2-0 up. It will be in the back of our mind somewhere but we have to go out and do the job and try to win the game.

“We are playing at Celtic Park and we will go and look to win the game and hopefully we will do that.”

Asked if he could put the game in the context of his Celtic career, the Scotland international said: “It is probably the biggest. It is massive for the club and all the players involved but we will be approaching it as just another game.”

Lennon, who is looking to take the Parkhead club in to the group stages of the competition for the first time since season 2008/09, did not look too confident when discussing his injury doubts.

He said: “We still have a few nagging doubts regarding the boys we left out at the weekend.”

The former Northern Ireland midfielder confirmed striker Mo Bangura has returned to AIK Stockholm on loan after his £2.2million move from the Swedish club proved unsuccessful.

Lennon said: “He is still our player but he needs to play and get himself going again.

“Possibly the expectation of the price tag weighs a little bit on younger players at times.

“We know he is a talent but he has been hampered by injuries.”

Lennon admitted interest in Auxerre defender Willy Boly and Rosenborg midfielder Markus Henriksen, but denied making a move for former England striker Michael Owen.

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