Lennon: Old Bhoy Strach inspired Celtic win

NEIL LENNON revealed a chat with former Celtic boss Gordon Strachan confirmed his inspired decision to play two-goal hero Georgios Samaras in the lone striker’s role at Ibrox.

The Greek international striker vindicated his selection by scoring a double to take the Hoops four points clear of Rangers at the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, although the Light Blues have two games in hand.

Samaras, not always a favourite of Lennon or the Celtic supporters, capped an impressive afternoon by opening the scoring in the 61st minute and then clinching the three points from the spot after he had been felled in the box by Ibrox defender Madjid Bougherra.

Afterwards a delighted Parkhead boss said: “I am very proud of the players and performance. I didn’t think there was one failure there today.

“I thought Samaras was unplayable.

“I spoke to Gordon about that lone-striker’s role, Samaras can do that and it was something we have been working on.

“He pulls himself off the two centre halves which isn’t an easy thing to do.”

The Hoops headed into the New Year showdown with a single point advantage at the top of the SPL but aware of Rangers’ two games in hand.

Celtic’s new signing Freddie Ljungberg failed to even make the squad after picking up a virus, while captain Scott Brown was suspended. Beram Kayal, Charlie Mulgrew and Samaras were all drafted into the side.

Former captains John Greig and Billy McNeill led out the teams as both sets of fans perfectly observed a minute’s silence ahead of kick-off to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Ibrox Disaster, when 66 Rangers fans lost their lives. Rangers were also showing their respects to former player Avi Cohen, who died recently.

Celtic survived a scare when Lee McCulloch connected well with a Vladimir Weiss corner and Emilio Izaguirre was forced into a headed clearance via the crossbar as Rangers applied pressure early on.

Clear-cut chances were few and far between in a scrappy opening spell, but Celtic threatened when Paddy McCourt slipped a lovely pass to James Forrest in front of goal only for McCulloch to make a timely intervention before he could unleash a shot.

Walter Smith and Neil Lennon no doubt demanded better from their players for the second period and it was Celtic who could have grabbed the advantage shortly after the restart when McCourt pounced on a Samaras flick-on only to rifle across the face of goal.

The match sparked into life after 62 minutes when Samaras opened the scoring.

Richard Foster lost possession to Joe Ledley, he punted the ball forward for Samaras to race past Allan McGregor —who had charged yards outside his box, before coolly slotting home.

Celtic doubled their lead seven minutes later when the referee pointed to the penalty spot after Bougherra clipped Samaras in the box. The Greek international dusted himself down before sending a firm, low shot past McGregor.

Rangers could have given themselves a lifeline had Bougherra’s volley in front of goal been on target following good work from Sasa Papac.

Samaras was then denied his hat-trick by a fingertip save from McGregor as Lennon’s men returned to Parkhead with the points.

Samaras is out of contract at the season but Lennon is looking for the big Greek to extend his deal at Parkhead.

Samaras admitted he would be happy to accept a new deal from Celtic.

He said: “I want to stay. If the manager has said he wants me to stay then hopefully in the next couple of days or weeks, we will find a solution and keep going together.”

Lennon had a go at critics who claim he had yet to win a big game since taking over from Tony Mowbray as Celtic boss last March, first on an interim basis.

“I think it’s a huge result,” the former Celtic skipper said.

“I think the majority of people in this room, from what I’ve heard in the last week or so, had written us off and given us no chance.

“The players answered a lot of questions and I think I have answered a lot of questions.

“People pointed the finger that we don’t win big games. It was fair comment because we hadn’t done ourselves justice in those games but we certainly did today.”

RANGERS: McGregor, Foster (Lafferty 68), Bougherra, Weir, Papac, Davis, Ness (Hutton 84), McCulloch, Whittaker, Miller, Weiss.

CELTIC: Forster, Wilson, Majstorovic, Rogne, Izaguirre, Forrest (McGinn 88), Kayal, Ledley, Mulgrew, McCourt, Samaras.

Ref: C Thompson.

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