herald

Thursday 21 September 2017

Lennon backers say: Let him be

Old Firm goalscorers join chorus calling for caretaker boss to be left in charge

Goal heroes Lee Naylor and Marco Fortune have added their weight to the growing 'Lenny for gaffer' campaign after Celtic's 2-1 win over Rangers.

In terms of silverware the result was meaningless but, with a decision due on who is to succeed Tony Mowbray as Celtic manager, the result carried huge significance for stand-in boss Neil Lennon.

Naylor and Fortune struck in the first half either side of a header from Kenny Miller and were quick to endorse Lennon's candidacy for the job.

Forgotten full-back Naylor said: "I hope now that Lenny goes on to get the job because I think he deserves it.

"He has given the players their pride back and we all respect him so much. He has put the belief back into that dressing room."

Fortune added: "Lenny has done well. Since he has been in charge we've had a belief in ourselves.

"It's up to others whether he stays or not but the players have a good feeling. He tries to give us his energy, he's a totally different character to Tony Mowbray. Lenny is more energetic on the bench, he's always moving and shouting."

There was no goal-den farewell from Robbie Keane but that didn't dampen his celebrations afterwards as the relief of finally beating Rangers spilled out.

Keane had two chances to add to his 15-goal Hoops tally but was denied by a great slide tackle from Stevie Smith in the first half, then shot weakly at Neil Alexander after being sent through on goal by Fortune midway through the second half.

Darren O'Dea was the pick of the Irish Celts with a commanding and dominating display at the back where he was partnered by Mark Wilson against Miller and Kyle Lafferty.

The stay-away Celtic fans returned in their droves to salvage something from a season of misery and were given some respite from the gloating of the Rangers support with the win.

Lennon couldn't have asked for more from the players he inherited from Mowbray, even though he described the experience of managing in an Old Firm derby as horrible.

The guessing game as to Mowbray's permanent successor will go into overdrive now with the season ending on Sunday.

Lennon is sitting in pole position with seven SPL wins stacked up against the Scottish Cup defeat from Ross County and will leave the decision-making up to others.

He said: "It was made clear to me that nothing will be done until after the season has ended.



Salvage

"The team has salvaged a little bit of something. I don't know how much that will mean to the supporters' feelings about the season but at least they've come away with an Old Firm victory, which we haven't done for a long time.

"I've not been happy with the speculation about bringing other people in; other managers have been named.

"It's difficult enough to prepare for an Old Firm game and then other names get thrown into the fire."

Scotland boss Craig Levein and Ronald Koeman were both mentioned as contenders for the manager's job in the build-up to last night's match.

Lennon has handled every demand of the job and even managed to turn the defeat from Ross County around by challenging the players to prove themselves in his scathing criticism after the match.

Walter Smith is often portrayed by the Scottish media as the doyen of dignity when it comes to management but was given a firm rebuttal from Lennon after the Rangers boss had launched a scathing criticism of Andreas Hinkel.

Smith questioned the German's attitude after claiming that Celtic were a better team than Rangers and added that there must be poor professionals in the Celtic side to have lost the title two years running to Rangers.

Lennon responded straight to the point, saying: "That's not Walter's place. He's not the Celtic manager and not affiliated with the club.

"I don't comment on Rangers and never have done, not as a manager, anyway. I think I have been quite gracious towards Rangers.

"I don't think it's Walter's place to criticise the Celtic players. He should leave that to people such as me."

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