NEIL LENNON has warned his Celtic players not to fall into the same trap he did against Artmedia Bratislava when they face Braga in their opening Champions League qualifier tonight (kick-off 8pm).
The Hoops’ 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Slovakian minnows Artmedia five years ago to the day was one of the worst nights of Lennon’s playing career.
The former midfielder helped Celtic salvage some pride in the return leg of that second qualifying round tie with a 4-0 win, but it was not enough to prevent the Hoops crashing out of Europe.
The Artmedia debacle was Gordon Strachan’s first competitive match in charge while tonight’s third qualifying round first leg will be Lennon’s European debut as manager. He knows he cannot afford to get off to a similar start.
“Bratislava’s a warning,” he said. “We don’t want to give ourselves too much to do going back to Celtic Park.
“Our home record at Celtic Park is very, very good. So we know that if we can take some sort of result back to Scotland, we’ll be pleased with that.”
For so long in the shadow of Benfica, Sporting Lisbon and Porto, Braga stormed to second place in the Portuguese league last season.
Tonight will provide the first indication whether Lennon is capable of solving the riddle of the club’s travel sickness.
“I hope so. It’s obviously something we’ve not been able to do on a consistent basis,” he said.
“We’ve had minimum success in the UEFA Cup and Champions League.
“We need to be at our best: 90 minutes concentration, and we need to be very disciplined as well.”
Celtic will be without Darren O’Dea who has a hamstring injury but Lennon is hopeful fellow defender Glenn Loovens will shake off a groin problem. New signing Gary Hooper goes straight into the squad but is not match-fit, Aiden McGeady has recovered from a thigh knock while Niall McGinn has a broken foot.
Hooper, signed from Scunthorpe, admitted his stomach was “doing somersaults” over the prospect of making both his Celtic and Champions League debu.
“I can play, yeah, but I haven’t played one game yet in pre-season,” said Hooper. “It’s a massive step up from the Championship, the lower Championship, to the Champions League, SPL,” he said.
“I’ve just got to show the team, show the gaffer, what I can do.”
Braga boss Domingos Paciencia vowed to turn up the heat on Celtic as temperatures in Portugal hit almost 40 degrees.
“We will increase the temperature,” he proclaimed, hinting he knew what was coming from Lennon’s men.
“Celtic don’t change their way of playing, even if they play away or at home, so we expect an open game.”
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