Riga FC v Celtic – “Callum has been magnificent,” says Lennon, “his all-round play is brilliant”

“We’ve another busy week ahead of us. We had a good week last week, three wins in seven days, 10 goals, only conceded three, and we’re hoping to keep that going,” the Celtic manager told Joe Donnelly via the official Celtic website.

I think we’re still to hit top form, but I’m delighted with the way we’ve negotiated the games and the catch up that we’ve had to do. We’re in a good strong position and we can now concentrate on Thursday’s Europa League game – we really want to get into the group stages now.

“I’m delighted with the players and we’re still embedding the new players in. We started off with back at the beginning of the season and more recently we’ve gone to a three. It takes time and a little bit of adjustment to that, but we’ve won six out of seven in the league now and have drawn the other one. That’s good going and it’s really good consistency.

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‘We’ve got great depth in the squad and it’s important to try and keep players motivated and give them something to look forward to and to also give them incentives. We think long and hard about each selection for every opposition.

“But over time, we will see our most consistent 11 on the pitch. Also, with the amount of games we’ve had in this burst between international breaks, I think it’s important that we do give players the opportunity to play and keep the squad fresh,” the Celtic manager added.

On this week’s trip to Latvia to play Riga FC in the Europa League qualifier the Celtic manager, ahead of today’s Media Conference from the team’s hotel, told the Celtic staff writer a little about what’s different to the usual situation for an away trip other than the obvious points of the game being played behind closed doors and will be decided on the night in a one legged tie.

‘We went out to Latvia a day earlier than we might otherwise for these games. The current situation means we’re confined to the hotel, besides going out to training for a light session tomorrow (Wednesday). In normal circumstances, we’d travel out the day before the game, but on this occasion we decided to get over a day earlier. We’ll do our normal preparations in terms of analysis and the players are working as hard as ever behind the scenes,” Lenny said.

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And the action in important games keep coming thick and fast, with high flying Hibs, who were unlucky to drop two points at home in their last outing, the visitors to Celtic Park this Sunday.

“Hibs have started the season really well, they had a good draw last weekend, a good 3-0 win over St Mirren and the only real blip has been a defeat to Aberdeen earlier in the season,” the former Hibs boss said.

“I know a lot of the players, I know the qualities they have and for us it’s great to have another game at home – one that we’ll be looking to not only win but to try and win well. It’ll be important for ourselves to keep that momentum going.”

One player who will be confident of finding the back of the net anytime he plays For Celtic is the new £5million signing from West Ham and his manager is delighted with the start he’s made at the club and predicts much more of the same. What turned out to be the winning goal against Livingston was a cracker – his best yet for the club, and Neil Lennon was delighted to talk us through it.

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“It’s a stunning finish from Albian,” Lenny admitted. “A lot of players would have taken on the goalkeeper. It’s a great run, it’s a great pass from Ryan and the timing of the run and the pass were perfect. The pass is played straight into Albian’s stride.

“He’s proficient with both feet, but for his less favourable side, to finish like that with his left foot, it’s an outstanding effort. The keeper had no choice, and he’s got a tendency to take things on early, his goal against Ross County was similar.

“In terms of his overall play, you can see that he’s getting fitter and stronger with each passing game. I’m really thrilled with the contribution he’s making and there’s more to come from him. That goal against Livingston was a superb striker’s finish.

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“Building his confidence comes with getting more game time, getting to know the players around him a bit better, scoring goals, all of that gives strikers more confidence. He looks a real threat. Besides all of that, what I enjoy about him is his link-up play, his strength, the way he holds players off, the way he brings other people into the game. We’re starting to see the level of great striker he can be.

“He knows he’s still got a bit of work to do, we know that, and that’s why we haven’t given him a full 90 just yet. We don’t want him injured for any length of time. But he can be really pleased with what he’s going at the minute.’

Another player the manager was happy to talk about in the interview was Callum McGregor whose equaliser on Saturday was his fiftieth goal for the club.

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“Callum has been magnificent. Last season, he came up with the important contributions when needed, his consistency was fantastic, and he scored a great goal at the weekend. If you think about the run and the pass that he made for Jamesy’s first goal against Motherwell – that was fantastic.

“His all-round play is brilliant, and this year, he’s getting better and better now, getting himself more and more up to speed as well.

“Sometimes, people are guilty of overlooking the work that he does and the standards he’s set. We certainly don’t as a backroom staff. We really appreciate the player that he is, and he’s so intelligent, he’s fit and he’s a great trainer as well and he just loves playing.

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“We know exactly what he’s all about, but I think there’s also more to come from him this season. I think he’s got more goals in him and hopefully he can get himself into double figures again this campaign.”

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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