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Lennon in new territory but wants to keep winning run

Last-gasp: Celtic players celebrate after their dramatic victory against Lazio
Last-gasp: Celtic players celebrate after their dramatic victory against Lazio

By Ronnie Esplin

Celtic boss Neil Lennon admits having already secured Europa League qualification feels "weird" but is demanding standards remain high against Rennes tonight.

The Hoops play their penultimate Group E fixture at Parkhead with 10 points from four games, top of the section and already in the hat for the last-32 draw.

The Celtic boss is enjoying the absence of a pressurised 'must-win' scenario but is looking to extend his side's eight-game winning run.

"Yes, it's sort of weird," said, Lennon, who confirmed French midfielder Olivier Ntcham will start the game.

"I've not really been in this position before but we are still driven.

"I don't want them to come off it at the minute, I want them to stay on the edge and on the level they have been playing at for the last six to eight weeks.

"We go into the game with confidence but no complacency.

"Rennes are dangerous, good pace in the team and counter attack well and if they come and play with a freedom, they could be in for a difficult night.

"We have only made 10 points in a European group before and this is an opportunity to better that.

"If we can win the group it may give you a favourable draw.

"That would be another milestone for this group and it is a big incentive."

Lennon, speaking after the club's AGM, was reluctant to get drawn into an extensive conversation about Celtic's decision to close part of the section of the stadium which hosts the club's ultras, the Green Brigade.

The Parkhead board took the decision due to one too many fines by UEFA, the most recent one costing the club £12,900 after fans displayed an "illicit banner" and sang obscene chants during their Europa League game at home to Lazio last month.

However, the Northern Irishman admits those fans who are banned will be missed.

He said: "It is a club decision and we feel it is a right decision. I am not going to dwell on it.

"We will miss those fans because they bring so much to the stadium and we hope they come back pretty soon."

Asked about making a move in January for Spurs midfielder Victor Wanyama, who played under Lennon in his first spell in charge at Celtic, Lennon said: "I don't know where the speculation is coming from and that's what it is, speculation.

"If a player like Wanyama was to become available and that is the first thing we have to ask because there is a new manager at Spurs and we don't know how Jose Mourinho will see Victor's role at the club.

"There is affordability and does the player want to come?

"We have not looked at any of that so this is just speculation and I am very well stocked in midfield and my midfield is performing superbly at the minute."

New signing Greg Taylor is looking for some Europa League rehabilitation against Rennes.

Before he made his move from Kilmarnock to Parkhead in September, the left-back was part of the Killie side knocked out of the competition in the qualifiers by Welsh minnows Connah's Quay Nomads.

To much embarrassment, after winning 2-1 away in the first leg, the Ayrshire side went down 2-0 in front of their own supporters at Rugby Park in July.

In the absence of injured Boli Bolingoli and Jonny Hayes, the 22-year-old Scotland defender is set to make his first European debut for the Scottish champions and is looking for a more positive experience.

He said: "That was one of the first things I said when joined Celtic - let's hope that's not my last game in Europe.

"Hopefully if I get my chance tomorrow then it will be a better time than it was at the start of the season.

"My memory is disappointment probably. It was a massive feat for a club like Kilmarnock to get into the Europa and to throw away a chance like that was disappointing at the time.

"Thankfully now I have another chance in Europe at a massive club like Celtic so just looking forward to it now."

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