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Lennon urges Celtic to kill off Cliftonville dream in style

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon has warned his Celtic players to keep their professional heads on at Parkhead tonight.

The Hoops are firmly in the Champions League driving seat after sweeping aside Cliftonville 3-0 at Solitude but the Ulsterman is taking nothing for granted.

Supporters are already talking about a clash against Swedish side Elfsborg in the next round but former Glenavon starlet Lennon is focused on finishing off Tommy Breslin's side.

"It can be difficult when most people think the tie is done and dusted," said the former Nortehrn Ireland international.

"But I would like to think the players would be professional enough to go and win the game.

"We need to try and put as much distance between ourselves and Cliftonville as we can.

"It's another game in terms of our preparation for the start of the season.

"I want them to take the same approach they did last week.

"They will be a week fitter. They look sharper now, so I expect another strong performance."

The showdown at Paradise will offer Liam Boyce another opporunity to impress watching scouts and Lennon is confident the Reds hitman, who had a trial at Celtic in 2010, can carve out a career in the professional game.

"Liam Boyce was here for a week a few years back then went to Werder Bremen," he added.

"I don't know why it didn't work out for him there, but he has certainly got the ability to make a career in professional football.

"They have some good technical players round the pitch who if they were a bit younger could have played at a decent level in England or Scotland.

"So I'm sure they have some decent players and it's no surprise to me they won the league so well with the quality they have."

Gary Hooper is included in the Celtic squad after recovering from a groin strain.

Many Hoops fans, however, may have thought they had seen the last of the former Scunthorpe player.

QPR remain favourites to sign the 25-year-old after tabling a bid reported to have been increased to around the £5m mark but as yet no agreement has been reached with the Scottish champions.

Lennon was asked for an update on the Hooper situation.

He said: "I have no idea to tell you the truth. But for the time being he is still a Celtic player, he is fit now and a great addition to have for tomorrow night.

"You never say never (Hooper staying). If things aren't agreed or go through then he will be here for at least another year.

"I am hoping to speak to him this afternoon. I haven't had much of a chance to see him in the last week or so.

"I would like to (convince him to stay) but his mind may be elsewhere.

"This has been going on for the last few weeks but I will make it clear that he is welcome here and we want him to stay."

On the issue of possible transfers Lennon revealed there were no further developments with regards Nottingham Forest target Kelvin Wilson. Celtic rejected a reported £1.5million bid from the English side to take the defender back to his former club on Friday.

"I am not expecting him to go anywhere," said the Northern Irishman.

"He has two years on his contract. There was a bid from Forest on Friday and there is nothing more on that."

Lennon is hoping common sense prevails with regards the question of whether on-loan striker Mo Bangura will play for Elfsborg against Celtic in the next Champions League qualifier, assuming both clubs get through to face each other.

Meanwhile, Kris Commons, who struck the woodwork twice in the opening battle at Solitude, has warned Cliftonville there will be no easing off from the Hoops.

"Cliftonville are going to come and try to enjoy the experience and just play as though they have nothing to lose," Commons said.

"I don't think anyone expected them to win the first tie, but they are going to come and give it a go.

"I think an early goal will kill off the tie. I think the manager wants to use the second-leg as more pre-season preparations."

Belfast Telegraph


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