Lennon insists Celtic still alive

CELTIC manager Neil Lennon believes his side have enough quality to upset the odds and qualify for the Europa League despite their 1-0 defeat by Atletico Madrid — a result which leaves them needing to win in Italy in their final group game.

Udinese drew 0-0 at Rennes last night and the Hoops have to beat the Italians in their last group fixture on December 15 to leapfrog them into second place and join Atletico in the next round. With a poor away record in Europe, their task is an uphill one to say the least.

But a defiant Lennon said: “We’re still in there with a fighting chance. It just means we have to go and win, which is a tall order obviously, but we are improving all the time and I can’t ask for any more of the players than that performance.”

Lennon praised his side’s efforts: “I thought we deserved a lot more out of the game than what we got.

“I’m delighted with the performance, just little things we can tidy up on.”

Celtic made a promising start in their penultimate Group I fixture with Thibaut Courtois making an excellent close-range block from Georgios Samaras, but they fell behind in the 30th minute.

Stand-in captain Beram Kayal appeared to duck under Arda Turan’s powerful long-range strike just in front of Fraser Forster and the goalkeeper could only help the ball into the net with his outstretched arm.

Centre-back Daniel Majstorovic admitted: “It was a really poor goal. I don’t know if Fraser saw the ball because the shot came from far away.”

On the hour mark, with Celtic getting a foothold in the game again, Kayal latched onto a Loovens header from a Mulgrew free-kick and sent a volley just wide of the target.

Moments after Courtois made a great save under the bar from Ki’s whipped free-kick, substitute Gary Hooper had the ball in the net from close range only to see the assistant referee with his flag raised, with an Anthony Stokes handball apparently the reason.

Lennon said: “Their goalkeeper kept them in it in the first half, he made two or three world-class saves.

“We got done by a very good strike.We defended the corner well and the guy has come on and hit it. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say, ‘good goal’.

“A lot of our play was very, very good. I thought Kayal and Samaras were exceptional.”

CELTIC: Forster, Matthews, Majstorovic, Loovens, Ledley (Mulgrew 38), Forrest, Wanyama (Hooper 46), Kayal, Ki, Stokes (Brown 76), Samaras.

ATLETICO MADRID: Courtois, Godin, Miranda, Perea, Filipe Luis, Salvio, Mario Suarez, Turan (Juanfran 79), Gabi (Paulo Assuncao 90), Diego, Adrian (Falcao 67).

Ref: Eric Braamhar (Netherlands).

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