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Rodgers: stadium safety must be a priority

By Andy Newport

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers has stressed the need for safety at stadiums after Hibernian counterpart Neil Lennon was felled by a coin in the Edinburgh derby in midweek.

The former Parkhead manager and midfielder was struck on the jaw in the goalless draw at Tynecastle on Wednesday night, moments after Hearts had a stoppage time goal disallowed.

Jambos keeper Zdenek Zlamal claimed he was punched by a fan while both assistant referees, Frank Connor and David McGeachie, were also struck by objects.

Rodgers, named Ladbrokes Premiership manager of the month for October, voiced his concerns over the incidents.

Speaking ahead of the visit of leaders Hearts today, he said: "I've seen some of the images on it. It's not nice when you see a fellow manager get hit by a coin.

"Up here the passion for football is fantastic. You go to these grounds and there's a real intense atmosphere at a lot of them, but it can never spill over.

"To see that was obviously disappointing, the actions of both sets of supporters. It's an environment as a manager and as a player, no matter how intense it is, it has to be a safe environment for you to go and do your work.

"The respective clubs, in fairness, have come out with their statement, which shows their togetherness on it, and hopefully it won't happen again.

"I get quite a bit of abuse as well but my focus is very much on the game. That's not right or wrong. It's just my way, other managers are different.

"But ultimately you have to be able to work without the threat of being hit with a coin or a punch."

Lennon backed his agent Martin Reilly's claim that he is routinely targeted for abuse in Scotland because he is an Irish Catholic who played for Celtic.

Ulsterman Rodgers said: "It's not something I really want to go into. I can understand what Martin is saying from his perspective.

"But whatever your religion is and wherever you're from and whatever your personality is as a manager, because we all have different traits - some are really explosive, some calm, some analytical, it doesn't matter.

"You shouldn't be subject to that. It's irrelevant.

"But I'm sure authorities and everyone will try and improve on that because it's not an image of the game we would want up here.

"I've been up here two and a half years and it's been a brilliant place to work and live.

"But of course it can't overstep the mark. You come in to a football pitch, you're in to do a professional job, you want the intensity, the passion, but you have to be protected as a player and a manager."

Celtic beat Hearts 3-0 in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Murrayfield last Sunday and can go within a point of the Jambos with a win today. Rodgers said: "We had a tough game last week, a really good game, but as always it will be tough.

"But we are looking forward to playing at home. It will be a full house, the pitch will be magnificent and we look forward to keeping our momentum going."

Hearts beat Celtic 1-0 in the league in August, but that was the only time the Jambos have avoided defeat in the last eight meetings against the champions.

The Hoops have won 14 of their last 15 home league games against Hearts, drawing the other 0-0 in September 2015. And Celtic's current four-game winning streak is the best ongoing run in the Scottish Premiership.

Celtic midfielder Eboue Kouassi is out for the rest of the season because of a knee injury, with on-loan winger Daniel Arzani set to join him on the sidelines with a similar problem.

Youssouf Mulumbu is back in training after recovering from a knock but this match comes too soon for the midfielder.

Jozo Simunovic, Cristian Gamboa, Scott Brown and Leigh Griffiths remain out.

Striker Steven MacLean returns from suspension for Hearts. Michael Smith and Demetri Mitchell are expected to brush off minor strains while Peter Haring will be asked to battle on through a hernia problem.

Steven Naismith (knee), Jamie Brandon (knee), Christophe Berra (hamstring), John Souttar (hip) and Uche Ikpeazu (foot) are on the sidelines.

Belfast Telegraph

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