Lennon furious with rugby-style defending

Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 00:00

Soccer:Neil Lennon blasted Spanish referee Alberto Undiano Mallenco after Celtic were beaten 3-0 defeat by Juventus at Parkhead last night. Goals from Alessandro Matri, Claudio Marchisio and Mirko Vucinic all but ended the Hoops’ European hopes in the first leg of their last-16 tie.

However, the Celtic boss was raging with the referee and his officials for their reluctance to punish the Juventus players for what at times resembled a wrestling match in the visitors’ box. Lennon: “I would like to ask the Italian journalists what they made of the way Juventus marked our players. It looked to me as if they were fouling at every opportunity.

“The referee was warned by our players to keep an eye on it but he ignored our requests time and again. We were getting hauled back and the referee is looking straight at it. Are the rules different in Spain and Italy to what they are in Britain? On that showing they must be.

“We played Juventus in 2001 here and (Paolo) Montero was marking Chris Sutton and the referee warned him, but he persisted with it and he gave a penalty and we went on to win 4-3, so what is the difference? What is the Spanish referee’s interpretation of that?

“I pointed it out to the referee at half-time but he waved me away. I made it clear to the players to flag it up and they did. It is not rugby they are playing, it is soccer. There is a way to defend and we do it as fairly as possible. I am not convinced the extra officials (behind the goals) help the referee or get involved with him.”

Lennon, though, was reluctant to admit he made a mistake by playing Efe Ambrose, who had featured for Nigeria in their 1-0 African Nations Cup final win over Burkina Faso on Sunday evening and did not arrive back in Glasgow until this morning. The former Celtic skipper said: “He was caught for the first goal but it was nothing to do with tiredness and I felt once he got over that he was fine.

“There was no sign of tiredness when he goes in and should score with a header, that is down to a bad miss . Maybe late as the game progressed he did tire, but with losing Mikael Lustig we had no alternative but to keep Efe on because we needed the pace at the back.

“You always ask questions in hindsight and maybe it was a bit of gamble, but I can’t really criticise the team apart from the final bit of quality to get us a goal.”

Juventus manager Antonio Conte stayed away from any controversy when told about Lennon’s assessment of the referee. He said: “Quite often in Italy we have the bad habit of over-criticising so I will leave it to the Celtic manager to criticise this evening.”

Conte was satisfied with his side’s performance during what was at times a frantic match. He said: “Celtic are a good team but we knew this, and there was a fantastic crowd who were like two extra men and that can only drive a team on.

“So it was a difficult match for us, but we kept our heads. Celtic played with great intensity but we showed great maturity and overall it was an excellent result for us.”

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