‘It was the best team we felt could have picked’: Celtic manager Neil Lennon defends decision to field a starting XI without any strikers for second-straight match despite Champions League exit in midweek
Neil Lennon insists he is not pursuing a managerial ego trip by leaving out big-money Celtic strikers out of his starting eleven.
Robbed of injured talisman Odsonne Edouard, the Parkhead boss saw his side crash out of the Champions League to Ferencvaros in midweek after midfielder Ryan Christie started up front.
Going with the the same again in yesterday’s 3-0 win over bottom-of-the-league Motherwell, new £5million man Albian Ajeti eventually came off the bench to score the second goal within five minutes of his introduction.
Neil Lennon is not pursuing an ego trip by leaving out main strikers in Champions League
The Parkhead boss saw his side crash out of the Champions League to Ferencvaros
New £3.5million Pole Patryk Klimala also made a second half impact as the champions switched to a 3-5-2 formation.
Repeating his stance that his big money pair are not yet matchfit, however, Lennon insisted the lack of a striker in his starting line-up has never been a matter of personal choice.
‘Listen, I make decisions and you live and die off them for what you think is for the benefit of the club.
‘It’s not some sort of ego trip.
‘I have always put the players first and the club first.
‘I expected criticism after the (Ferencvaros) game and the volume of criticism is sometimes out of sync and balance.
‘But you learn to live with that and we had a good response today from the players.
‘No one is more sore about going out of the Champions League than myself.
‘It’s on my CV now that result, but I have to park that and move forward.’
Lennon insisted the lack of a striker in his starting side has never been a personal choice
The decision to go with Christie up front once more threatened to backfire until James Forrest smashed a timely first goal of the season five minutes before half-time. Goals from Ajeti and a strike by Christopher Julien on the final whistle removed the threat of more anger from supporters.
Insisting he can’t be influence by external reactions Lennon added: ‘You’ve just got to go with your gut instinct to go with the same team.
‘I thought that, in isolation, we dominated Ferencvaros and should have won – we didn’t.
‘And then it’s all down to the fact we didn’t play a centre forward, but none of them are fit enough to start and you can see that today.
‘The likes of Edouard and Griffiths aren’t here either, they are injured, Rogic is injured, Johnston is injured.
‘It was the best team we felt could have picked and today to start the game we felt it was the right way to go.’
Called up to face Ukraine and Germany in forthcoming Nations League qualifiers Lennon has already warned Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic of his concerns over Ajeti’s fitness.
‘We’ve an issue because Albian has been called up and we have let the Swiss know he is not fully match fit.
‘So whether he goes and comes back or does some conditioning work and maybe plays 10 or 15 minutes I don’t know.
Lennon said he can’t be influenced by external reactions and must go with his ‘gut’
‘I’ve not said I don’t want him to play, but he is not match fit.
‘They will take a view on that when they see him and Albian is of the same opinion
‘But as far as the other ones they are all travelling.
‘Edouard is injured, so he won’t be going with France under-21s.’
New £3.25m signing David Turnbull was an unused substitute yesterday and Lennon will now step up his efforts to add new signings in the international break.
‘I think so, yeah. I don’t know how many, but hopefully there will be one or two new faces coming in.’
Left-back is one of the positions he plans to strengthen after Boli Bolingoli was hit with a three match SFA ban for breaching Covid-19 guidelines and putting the season at risk.
‘There will be a disciplinary sanction from the club as well.
‘We will take stock of things over the next week or so and take a decision on what we do.’
Asked if the Belgian’s Parkhead career is now effectively over he added:
‘I wouldn’t be so definite, but it might be something we think about, that’s for sure.
‘We are going to think about it very, very intensely and make a decision in the next week or so.’