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Celtic could end up losers both on and off the pitch

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon claimed his side turned in their best performance away from home in Europe for eight years only to see it overshadowed by more controversy surrounding their fans.

The Parkhead club were this week fined £12,700 by UEFA after their supporters were reported for "illicit chanting" in a previous Europa League fixture against Rennes in Glasgow.

But at the Stadio Friuli, before the hard-fought 1-1 draw which saw Celtic ultimately exit the tournament, a two-part banner which was insulting towards European football's governing body was unfurled by the travelling fans and there were several flares set alight, one of which was hurled onto the running track.

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, chairman Ian Bankier and Lennon yesterday hit out at the embarrassing, rogue element within the Hoops' support but the Ulsterman was particularly annoyed that his side's fine display had all but been ignored.

"I was speaking with Johan Mjallby, Alan Thompson and Gary Parker (backroom staff) and, in our opinion, it was probably the best performance we have had away since beating Liverpool away in 2003 (on the way to the UEFA Cup final)," he said.

"We were very unfortunate not to win the game. If you look at the context, we went to the co-leaders of Serie A and Italian defences are normally hard to break down but we seemed to do that on numerous occasions last night.

"We didn't set up negatively. The players got on the front foot right away and made Udinese work for everything."

Lennon gave special mention to keeper Fraser Forster who pulled off several crucial saves during what was an enthralling 90 minutes.

The former Celtic skipper, who takes his side to Perth to face fellow countryman Steve Lomas' St Johnstone side, said: "We knew we might be busy and asked him if he could make the saves when we needed him to and he certainly did that.

"He made a double save (at 1-1) when I thought it was a goal.

"I was starting to think how we were going to get the goal back but he pulled off two magnificent saves.

"But the team on the whole was the star and we were very unfortunate not to go through."

Before flying back to Glasgow yesterday afternoon, Lawwell was involved in an uncomfortable confrontation with a couple of young supporters at Trieste airport when asked why he was not backing the fans.

An angry Lawwell then rounded on the "very small minority" of supporters whom he claims have embarrassed Celtic.

"I believe the flares and banner are in the UEFA report and we will have to face the consequences some time next week," he said.

"It is very frustrating. Those people are not Celtic supporters and we will do all we can to identify them and take the appropriate action.

"The vast majority of Celtic supporters are positively supporting Celtic, we have a magnificent reputation around Europe and this, unfortunately, is an embarrassment that we can't tolerate.

"It is a very small minority and that is an advantage. There are so few of them that we can identify them to make sure that they don't appear back at Celtic Park or travel with us and that is what we are going to do, we cannot tolerate it."

Belfast Telegraph


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