Celtic manager Neil Lennon has dismissed the notion that playing Callum McGregor at left-back played any part in his side’s embarrassing Champions League exit to Cluj – whilst lamenting ‘suicidal’ defending.
The Hoops looked in good shape to reach the competition’s playoff round following last week’s 1-1 draw away to the Romanian champions, but a crazy night in the East End of Glasgow saw the Hoops beaten 4-3 on the night, 5-4 on aggregate, with Lennon’s team selection coming under close scrutiny.
The £3 million left-back Boli Bolingoli was left on the bench, whilst £7 million centre-back Christopher Jullien was also left to kick his heels on the sidelines, with Celtic’s creative play-maker McGregor asked to play on the left-hand side of defence.
In the end, a pretty shambolic display sees Celtic drop into the Europa League qualifiers, and their manager was obviously pretty angry as he spoke to the media afterwards.
Speaking via BBC Sport Scotland, he said: “The goals we conceded are crazy. You’ve got to do the basics well – you’ve got to stop crosses, close people down, get your head on things – and it was almost as if we scored and wanted to switch off and control the game.
“In the first half, we were way too passive, way too slow with the tempo, so we gave them a bit of a razz at half-time and we got the right response going 2-1 up. But we needed that two-goal cushion. It’s suicidal the goals we gave away tonight.
“The first goal, we got a warning before that, and we still didn’t stop the cross and the guy’s got across for a run. If you don’t do the basics defensively well enough then at this level you get punished. We’ve let it go. We’ve only ourselves to blame. We had the lead and we let it slip through our own decision-making really.”
On McGregor’s positioning, the Northern Irishman added: “People can point at that but he did set up our equaliser and I thought he had a very good game.
“I don’t think the left side was really the problem tonight.
“We’ve got to work with the players. We’ve got to raise their morale, first of all. We’re going to get a bit of criticism and that’s totally par for the course. We’ve worked really hard to get where we are we’ve basically thrown it away. We’ve got some good defenders but for some reason they wanted to slow the game down.”
And on Scott Brown’s bizarre handball that handed Cluj a penalty at 2-1, Lennon concluded: “He’s misjudged the ball and made a mistake.
“Over 12 years you could probably count the number of mistakes he’s made on one hand. He’s bitterly disappointed but we’re not going to make anyone a scapegoat tonight.”
Celtic will now face either AIK of Sweden or Moldova’s Sheriff in the playoff round to reach the Europa League group stages – but what do you think of tonight’s result?
Let us know in the comments section below…