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Neil Lennon has no regrets over Old Firm battle with Ally McCoist

By Stuart McKinley

After spending over 12 years at Celtic as player, coach and manager, Neil Lennon knows a thing or two about the intensity of Old Firm clashes.

In the build-up to Sunday's Scottish Cup semi-final between Celtic and Rangers the former Hoops boss has already alerted current Ibrox chief Mark Warburton that nothing can prepare him for the heat of this particular battle.

Over 50,000 fans of the Glasgow rivals will create a tense atmosphere, which will be added to by the fact that this is only the second meeting of the teams since Rangers were kicked out of Scotland's top flight in 2012.

With regular hostilities set to be renewed next season when the Gers return to the Premiership, this weekend's meeting will set the tone for when they next lock horns, likely to be in the autumn.

Playing - and therefore being able to influence the game - is probably the easy part.

Lennon had no problems when he was in the heart of the Celtic midfield for seven seasons. Instead his most infamous Old Firm moment came on the touchline, in a clash with then Rangers manager Ally McCoist five years ago.

"It is something that the game does to you," said former Northern Ireland midfielder Lennon.

"It brings out instincts in you that you probably wouldn't normally show, but there is just so much pride at stake as well when it comes to these games.

"It means a lot to both sets of staff, both sets of players and certainly both sets of fans."

Tempers have been known to boil over, particularly in 1987 when Rangers pair Chris Woods and Terry Butcher, as well as Celtic's Frank McAvennie, were sent off in an ill-tempered game.

All three, as well as Rangers' Graeme Roberts, later appeared in court, with Butcher and Woods fined for a breach of the peace.

Lennon claims he got caught up in the atmosphere, but is unrepentant over his tussle with McCoist.

"There was a lot going on that night and I have no regrets," said Lennon.

"I am sure Ally doesn't have any regrets either.

"In the cold light of day, you are thinking 'what are you doing', but at the time we both reacted and it is a great talking point from Old Firm history."

Given the fact that the Old Firm fixtures hasn't been a regular date on the calendar while Rangers fought their way back from the bottom to the top, a number of players will get their first taste of one of world football's iconic derbies on Sunday.

Lurgan-born Lennon, who will be at Hampden working for the media in his capacity as a Celtic expert, remembers what that was like, but his memories of the game itself are patchy.

"Even in my first game all those years ago, the first 45 minutes was a blur," Lennon told the Scottish Herald.

"I was lucky because we played Rangers back-to-back, so it was a Wednesday night and then a Sunday, so I was really well prepared for the second game.

"For the novices and the debutants, it is going to be something different that they have never experienced before."

Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon admits his 100th appearance for Celtic will be all the more memorable if he helps them to a Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Rangers.

Gordon, who will rack up his century of appearances at Hampden, said: "It's a good one to bring up the 100th with. It's a good achievement to get to 100 already. It's something to be proud of, especially from where I've come from. I'm happy with that but let's hope I can mark that occasion with a good result."

Scottish Cup SF: Hampden Park, Sunday 12noon (Sky)



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