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Celtic’s loyal fans keep Lennon strong

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon has said an emotional thank you to the Celtic fans who rallied around him in his hour of need.

The football world was shocked when it emerged that the Hoops boss was the intended recipient of a parcel bomb.

The parcels, which Strathclyde Police say were “designed to cause harm”, were sent to Lennon, Paul McBride QC and Labour politician Trish Godman.

However, in a brave act of defiance, Lennon returned to the dugout at Rugby Park on Wednesday night to guide Celtic to a crucial 4-0 SPL win over Kilmarnock.

The former Celtic midfielder owned the number 18 shirt in his playing days at Parkhead and an incredible show of support and solidarity came in the 18th minute of the fixture.

Lennon, who is now preparing his team for a title showdown against Rangers at Ibrox on Sunday (12.30), was touched by the fans’ gesture.

“It was a tremendous gesture and I can’t thank the supporters enough for the following they gave us, not just me personally, but the team,” said the Lurgan man.

“It spurred the team on to a great performance and there seems to be a groundswell now of support and a unity between the squad and supporters as a whole.

“We are going to need that between now and the end of the season, but from a personal point of view, I really can’t thank them enough.”

Thrilled with his side’s comprehensive victory, he added: “There was a great intensity to the way we played.

“Our approach to the game was very good and our quality of play throughout the whole 90 minutes was of a very high standard.”

Lennon has been targeted by bigots in the past and he ended his Northern Ireland career after receiving a death threat prior to a friendly against Cyprus in 2002.

Earlier this year it was revealed that Lennon along with Northern Ireland and Celtic players Niall McGinn and Paddy McCourt had been sent bullets in the post, but parcel bombs that could kill their intended target represent an act of terrorism.

There are fears that Lennon could walk away from Celtic in the summer over concerns for the welfare of his family, but he has reassured fans that he remains totally focused on winning his first championships as Hoops supremo.

“I have a target in mind that I have had since the start of the season — and that’s to try and bring the championship back to the club and I have not been swayed on that by any means,” he added.

“I am just totally committed to and concentrated on my players and how to keep them in the best possible form between now and the end of May.”

Kilmarnock caretaker boss Kenny Shiels, who also enjoyed managerial spells at Ballymena United and Coleraine, launched a savage attack on those responsible for the parcel bombs, saying only a “nutter” could have committed the crime.

He said: “I'm not happy with that (parcel bombs) but these are isolated things. I don't want it to happen, but it only takes one nutter.

“The people who sent them are definitely not football supporters, they have different agendas. I don't think it's within football, these things have come from outside football. It will be something else next week.

“Hopefully this will die down and there will be someone sent-off on Sunday that shouldn’t be sent-off and that will be the talking point.”

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