Lennon expects tough test
Tonight’s Champions League play-off against Shakhter Kargandy could prove very tricky, according to Celtic manager Neil Lennon.
The Hoops travel to Astana, over three thousand miles and half way to Japan for the first leg of their crucial play-off as they look to secure a group stage spot for the Champions League.
Kazahkstan champions Shakhter will be hoping to be the first team from their country to reach the group stage of a major European competition in their 11 years of participation and like Celtic have already come through two rounds of qualification.
Threat to qualification
Speaking to SkySports, Lennon is under no illusion of the danger the Kazahk champions will pose to his team. He said:
“Obviously we have more experience than Shakhter but the are at home and they have an excellent home record.
“They have already knocked out BATE Borisov who beat Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season so this is going to be a difficult tie.
Shakhter have won both home matches without conceding so far in the qualifying stages. Though Lennon knows his team can also claim the same and in fact have got through both rounds without conceding at all.
“It will be a very difficult tie, particularly the game away from home. The tie is over two games and hopefully we will take some sort of result back to Glasgow.
“Our home form in the Champions League is very good over the years but we know we are in for a difficult game.
“We are very well prepared for this tie and will give this our concentration. We are not taking this lightly. We are not here for a holiday.
“We are here to play hard football.”
The Celtic boss also believes that his team’s long experience of the competition will give his side an extra edge against Shakhter, who are involved for only the second time. Last year they fell at the first hurdle to Czech side Slovan Liberec. And Celtic’s winning start in the league away at Aberdeen will also bolster confidence.
Lennon went onto say:
“I suppose after after last year you are a little more comfortable. But it is still quite a nerve-wracking time for all us involved although we try not to let that permeate to the players.
“We are relaxed, we had a great result at the weekend against Aberdeen and the players are in good form and looking forward to the game.
“I have liked the camaraderie between the players and the new boys have settled in very well;”
Celtic have so far brought in Portuguese striker Amido Balde, and Dutch players Virgil van Dijk and Derk Boerrigter. Though there have been some noticeable departures, as the manager admitted:
“Obviously we have lost hugely influential players in Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson but we feel we have acquired some very good players.”
Celtic kick off tonight against Shakhter Kargandy at 16.00 (UK time).