Lennon vows to defend his players
Soccer:Neil Lennon regrets his bust-up with Celtic fans but will continue to back his players when he feels criticism is unjustified. The Hoops boss dramatically threatened to quit the club after an altercation with several disgruntled supporters during the shock 1-0 league defeat by Inverness at Parkhead on Sunday.
Caley’s first league win in the east end of Glasgow was met by a chorus of boos by the home fans. The champions have dropped 17 points - four less than in the whole of last season – but remain top of the SPL by one point and can look forward to a Champions League Group G decider against Spartak Moscow next week.
Ahead of tomorrow night’s trip to Hearts, the former Celtic skipper reflected on the weekend’s events with the help of some humour.
“I regret it, yes, of course,” said Lennon. “It’s not something I want to do. But if I think it (criticism) is unjustified I will voice my opinion. I am defending my team. I know it is difficult for fans because they are passionate about the team and want them to do well but sometimes it doesn’t help. I wasn’t getting any stick personally, it was directed towards the team and I was defending the team because they are giving me everything. I think the world of my players and think the world of my supporters as well. But if I was the manager of Accrington Stanley I would do exactly the same time - although the way the results are going, I might soon be.”
The Northern Irishman knows from his time as a battling midfielder at Celtic Park that criticism comes with the territory but he insists there is “no division” between him and the supporters.
He said: “We are not happy with our recent home form but we are progressing, we are still in four competitions, we are top of the league albeit not playing as consistently as we would like. So at times we need a wee bit of patience but you don’t always get that at big clubs, and I understand that. I’m sure we had our bad spells under Martin (O’Neill) and Gordon (Strachan). I can remember coming back from the San Siro after we lost to a Kaka goal in the last 16 of the Champions League (against AC Milan), and then we lost an Old Firm game 1-0 after playing quite well.
“We were getting dog’s abuse although we were still 13 points clear at the time. So sometimes you set the bar high and if you don’t meet the expectations the fans do voice their opinions, which they are entitled to do. If the support are not happy with what they are seeing and voice their displeasure then I will review my situation. That’s always been the case from day one. But there is no division here. I was expressing an opinion. I think they are right to expect us to win at home against Inverness, Kilmarnock and St Johnstone.
“We expect that as well and it is obviously an area we have to improve on.”
A lack of atmosphere against Inverness was accentuated by the absence of the Green Brigade, the vociferous and occasionally controversial section of the Hoops support who boycotted the match after claiming they had been subject to “oppressive police tactics.”
It is understood the Green Brigade, which number a few thousand, will also boycott Saturday’s home Scottish Cup tie against Arbroath but Lennon would like to speak to the group’s leaders to help resolve the situation.
“There is no doubt that they do bring something special to the stadium,” he said. “We want them back. I understand some of the reasons why they didn’t come to the game. But we would like to sort it out with dialogue, come to some sort of conclusion and get them back supporting the team as they have brought so much to the club and the stadium, they have been so much help to the players and myself since I have been in charge.”
A spokesperson for Strathclyde Police told Press Association Sport: “We’re aware of the comments on a number of social networking sites in relation to allegations of police harassment.
“We categorically deny that any particular group is unfairly targeted and if anyone thinks they have been unjustly treated they should feel confident in making a complaint.”
Meanwhile, Lennon will continue to monitor United States international striker Juan Agudelo. The 20-year-old Chivas USA player has been training at Lennoxtown during the Major League Soccer close season.
The Hoops boss said: “He is a player who has impressed us and we hope to take it further.”
Lennon is also looking at Frank Acheampong, a 19-year-old left winger with one cap for Ghana, but said: “We need longer to assess Frank.”