Belfast Telegraph

Monday 1 September 2014

Strachan backed Samaras to star, says Lennon

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 02: Celtic coach Neil Lennon reacts during the Clydesdale Bank Premier League match between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 02: Celtic coach Neil Lennon celebrates at the end of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League match between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 02: Celtic coach Neil Lennon celebrates with Daniel Majstorovic at the end of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League match between Rangers and Celtic at Ibrox Stadium on January 2, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland.. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Neil Lennon revealed a chat with former Celtic boss Gordon Strachan confirmed his inspired decision to play two-goal hero Georgios Samaras in the lone striker's role at Ibrox.

The Greece international striker vindicated his selection by scoring a double to take the Hoops four points clear of Rangers at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, although the Light Blues have two games in hand.

Samaras, not always a favourite of Lennon or the Celtic supporters, capped an impressive afternoon by opening the scoring in the 61st minute and then clinching the three points from the spot after he had been felled in the box by Ibrox defender Madjid Bougherra.

Afterwards a delighted Parkhead boss said: "I am very proud of the players and performance. I didn't think there was one failure there today.

"We were very resilient, we dominated and I thought Samaras was unplayable.

"I spoke to Gordon about that lone-striker's role, Samaras can do that and it was something we have been working on.

"I have seen him play in World Cups and do that and we felt we would leave him up there to do it.

"He pulls himself off the two centre halves which isn't an easy thing to do.

"His movement and composure for the first goal was great and although he got a lot of confidence from the way he started the game, he got a huge lift from the goal."

Samaras is out of contract at the season but Lennon is looking for the big Greek to extend his deal at Parkhead.

"We know he is capable of doing that," the Irishman said. "We know he has fantastic attributes, we just need to find that consistency and maybe that role suits him best.

"But I think he has done himself no harm today regarding a new contract."

Samaras admitted he would be happy to accept a new deal from Celtic - and continue as lone striker.

He said: "I want to stay. If the manager has said he wants me to stay then hopefully in the next couple of days or weeks, we will find a solution and keep going together.

"That is my position, the one I like to play and it was a nice feeling to score my first goal at Ibrox.

"My team mates and me worked really hard and in the second half we were much better than Rangers and deserved to win the game.

"Everyone would have enjoyed that, the manager, me, my team mates, the supporters, it's a great win for us and we must continue in the same way.

"It is important that we are still first in the league. I know Rangers have two games in hand but it is good that we are in first place.

"We know that until the end of May we will fight with Rangers for the SPL trophy.

"But we are in good shape and we hope that we stay there."

Lennon had a go at critics who claim he had yet to win a big game since taking over from Tony Mowbray as Celtic boss last March, first on an interim basis.

"I think it's a huge result," the former Celtic skipper said.

"I think the majority of people in this room, from what I've heard in the last week or so, had written us off and given us no chance.

"The players answered a lot of questions and I think I have answered a lot of questions.

"People pointed the finger that we don't win big games

"It was fair comment because we hadn't done ourselves justice in those games but we certainly did today.

"We did with a bit of style was well and I really enjoyed watching them play today.

"So I hope it's a turning point for the players.

"It's always difficult to come here but I thought we took everything that Rangers threw at us and came back in spades and wore them down and in the end were capable of getting even more goals."

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