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Celtic are ready for revenge on Cluj this time round, says Lennon

Looking ahead: Kristoffer Ajer knows Cluj will offer a stern test at Parkhead
Looking ahead: Kristoffer Ajer knows Cluj will offer a stern test at Parkhead
Neil Lennon

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon believes Celtic are better equipped to deal with Cluj for the second time ahead of their Europa League clash tonight.

The Hoops were knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by the Romanian outfit on aggregate in August following a 4-3 home defeat.

Lennon expressed delight with his side's response to the setback, which remains their only defeat in 18 matches this season, with their first Ladbrokes Premiership points of the campaign dropped in the 1-1 draw against Hibernian at the weekend.

Ahead of the visit of Cluj to Parkhead, which follows the Hoops' 1-1 draw with Rennes in France in their Group E opener, the Celtic boss outlined his side's improvement.

He said: "We have good belief about ourselves now. There is decent cohesion and understanding, and players have got a lot of match rhythm and game time and a familiarity with the way we play.

"In that respect we are in a better place now than we were then. We have made a super start to the season, whether it be domestically or in Europe, and I am delighted.

"I thought the performance in Rennes was excellent and we carried on in the same vein domestically.

"There is a new back four, more or less, a new goalkeeper and we have been on a good run since the Cluj match, more or less won every game.

"I have been delighted with the reaction and style of play and the motivation the players have.

"We are not taking Cluj lightly at all. We respect them and think they are a highly-motivated team who play a certain way that suits their style and they do it very well."

Cluj were subsequently knocked out of the Champions League qualifiers by Slavia Prague but opened their Europa League campaign with a 2-1 home win over Italian side Lazio.

The former Celtic skipper is happy for talk of redemption to swirl around the Cluj rematch but is keen for his players not to get too carried away.

"We know it was a game that got away from us and there is always an opportunity in football to right a wrong, if you want to put it that way," said Lennon.

"Maybe a little bit of motivation for the players, but the motivation is we have started the group well. We are at home and it is important to try to reinforce the home advantage. You can use it as motivation as long as the players don't get too emotional.

"It is the first home game in the group stage and we are very excited about it.

"Cluj are a good team. They have proved that since they played us. They were very close to knocking out Slavia and got a good result against Lazio.

"It is going to be a tough game but one that we are ready for."

Meanwhile, Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer believes Cluj sent a recent reminder of their danger ahead of tonight's encounter.

On the same night Celtic began their campaign with a 1-1 draw against Rennes in France, Cluj beat Lazio 2-1 in Romania.

The 21-year-old Norway defender said: "We want to do better than we did the last time at Celtic Park. We know it is a massive game for us and we also know that Cluj will make it really difficult for us.

"They showed in the first game against Lazio that they are a top, top side and we will have to be at our very best to get points.

"I wasn't surprised. Romania is a really tough place to go, so for them to get that result at home just shows that every team in this group can take points off you, so you have to be focused and ready.

"We have a great chance to go through this group and that is our main target.

"We have the Celtic mentality of taking one game at a time and we have to look after tomorrow evening."

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