‘We’ve only ourselves to blame’ – Neil Lennon blasts Celtic players after ‘passive’ display against Cluj
Neil Lennon accepts there can be no hiding place for Celtic as they face the inquest into their dramatic elimination from the Champions League.
The Celtic manager says his players only have themselves to blame for the manner of their 4-3 defeat at home to Cluj which saw the Romanian champions win the third qualifying round tie 5-4 on aggregate.
Lennon was left bemused by the initially tame performance of his team who trailed 1-0 at half-time, then left to rue their defending as they surrendered a winning position twice in the second half.
“In the first half we were so passive,” said Lennon. “No tempo, I don’t know where that came from. We weren’t physical or aggressive enough. You’ve got to earn the right to play. We went out and tried to play from the off.
“We got a warning before the first goal, we didn’t stop a cross and they missed a header far post. You think that’s the warning but then we do the exact same thing again.
“At half-time we got after them a little bit and got the right response but we shot ourselves in the foot with the goals we conceded. We had the lead twice and gave it away. If we played anywhere near as well in the first half as we did in the second half, we would have been through. To score three goals at home and not win the game, we’ve only ourselves to blame.
“They have missed out on a good opportunity, we all have. We had more than enough quality out there to win the tie.”
Celtic drop into the Europa League where they will face either AIK Stockholm of Sweden or Moldovan side Sheriff Tiraspol in the play-off round. AIK take a 2-1 lead into the second leg of that third qualifying round tie in Stockholm tomorrow night.
“It’s hugely disappointing for us all as a collective,” added Lennon. “We have to accept the criticism which comes our way – whether it be from the media, our own supporters or elsewhere. We need to regroup, qualify for the Europa League and make a strong claim in that.”
For Cluj manager Dan Petrescu, it was another memorable night in Glasgow. The former Chelsea defender was previously in charge of Unirea Urziceni when they beat Rangers 4-1 at Ibrox in a Champions League group stage game in 2009.
“It was a very nice game of football tonight but not for coaches, or for Celtic fans,” smiled Petrescu.
“I can’t believe it’s the second time a team of mine have scored four goals in a Champions League match in Glasgow.
“I told my players they would need to play the game of their lives because Celtic can beat any team in Europe here, My players believed and did an incredible job. My players were heroes for me tonight. It is one of the best results of my career as a coach.”