Neil Lennon braced for ‘strange’ and ‘special’ Celtic Park return

Hibs boss Neil Lennon will return to Celtic Park this weekend. Picture: Scott Louden
Hibs boss Neil Lennon will return to Celtic Park this weekend. Picture: Scott Louden
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Neil Lennon admits he plans to soak up his Celtic Park return - but reckons it will mean nothing if his Hibernian side become the Hoops’ latest victims.

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The former Parkhead captain and manager will make his first visit to his old stomping ground with an away team on Saturday.

Having helped add 11 honours to the Glasgow giants’ trophy collection as a player and another five as boss, he is certain to be afforded the warmest of welcomes.

And the Northern Irishman is already looking forward to walking out to what is bound to be a ear-splitting ovation.

But Lennon knows the niceties will stop the second the whistle goes for kick-off and, similarly, he expects his team to hold nothing back against Brendan Rodgers’ men.

“It’s going to be a mixture of emotions on Saturday,” he said. “It will be the first time I’ve ever been at Celtic Park in the opposition changing room or dug-out, so that will be a bit strange.

“It will be good to see a lot of people I haven’t seen old friends, but, as for the game, it’s going to be a very difficult afternoon.

“I’m expecting the reception I’ll get will be warm - well I hope will be anyway. You all know it’s a club that has been very close to my heart for a significant period of my life.

“But I’m going there to do my job as best I can and to do what’s best for Hibs. It’s not about me.

“It will be good to go back and for me personally it will be special, but for the team it’s just another game.

“If we get beat, the [reception I’ll get] will mean nothing. I still have to go home and kick the cat and analyse what went wrong.

“Me going back was going to happen eventually, it just happens to be this weekend. I’ll enjoy the moment, but probably not the game as much.”

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During his tenure as Celtic manager, Lennon presided over a Hoops squad that managed to defeat Barcelona when the Catalan giants where at the height of their powers.

But even his side did not inspire the kind of dread among on opponents that Rodgers’ crop do as a result of their rampant 57-game unbeaten run in domestic competitions.

The Hibs boss, though, reckons he has a formula that could put the breaks on that streak, but only if everything goes his side’s way.

“They are going great guns right now and had a fantastic win last night (3-0 away to Anderlecht),” said Lennon. “How to stop them is a question every manager is trying to figure out right now.

“You need massive amounts of concentration and, when you get a chance, you need to be ruthless.

“You will have to change your game - there’s no question about that. Celtic dominate the ball, so patience is a virtue the players will need on Saturday.

“The other factor will be luck. You’ll need a bit of that along the way. You’ll need your goalkeeper to play well and your players to believe in what they’re doing.

“But I won’t have to motivate the team as Celtic away is the ultimate game in Scottish football right now. It’s the toughest test you’ll get and the game where you want to show your best.”

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