Forster urges side to fin­ish job with top spot

Evening Times - - SPORT | LAST WORD - Ali­son McCon­nell

Cham­pi­ons League re­mains of a sig­nif­i­cantly higher stan­dard than the Europa League but, still, there has been suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to sug­gest Celtic have ma­tured as a team on a con­ti­nen­tal front.

McGre­gor has ap­plauded Lennon’s courage and be­lief in the team for the man­ner in which he has set out his stall this term in Europe’s sec­ond-tier tour­na­ment.

The Scot­land in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, piv­otal now to the Park­head side’s mid­field, has ac­knowl­edged the way re­peated ex­po­sure to Euro­pean foot­ball has lent Celtic a more street­wise edge.

“He could be [bolder than Rodgers]. You see with re­sults,” he said. “We went to Lazio and I think peo­ple hoped rather than had any ex­pec­ta­tion, but when you de­liver a re­sult like that it changes ev­ery­one’s mind­set.

“That’s what we have to do now as a team in Europe. We have been great do­mes­ti­cally and that is still our bread and but­ter. We still have to look af­ter that, but I think in Europe now we prob­a­bly have enough ex­pe­ri­ence where we can re­ally go and try to do some­thing.

“We have two games now to fin­ish top and that is where we re­ally want to be. Then hope­fully we get a good draw and we take it from there.”

If Lennon’s shin­ing mo­ment as Celtic man­ager was en­gi­neer­ing a win over an all-con­quer­ing Barcelona side back in 2012, he is not with­out a few mem­o­rable nights un­der the flood­lights as a player.

Lennon was in­stru­men­tal within the cen­tral pas­tures dur­ing Martin O’Neill’s era at the club that re-es­tab­lished Celtic’s rep­u­ta­tion on a Euro­pean front, the most notable of which was a run to the UEFA Cup fi­nal. And McGre­gor ap­pre­ci­ates the man­ner in which Lennon has taken les­sons from his own play­ing days into the mod­ern game.

“He builds sim­i­lar teams when he is at the helm,” he said. “I think now you can say there are cer­tain sim­i­lar­i­ties – there is pace on the counter-at­tack, good mind­set in the mid­dle where you are not giv­ing away too many balls and then, when you are go­ing for­ward, we have that front three who can re­ally hurt teams – James [Forrest], [Ryan Christie], Tom [Rogic], Oli [Ntcham]… the list goes on.”

It is big for us. We know we have to fin­ish the job. That’s where we want to be

And Lennon’s tute­lage and ex­pe­ri­ence has been key to Celtic’s cur­rent van­tage point at the top of the group, ac­cord­ing to McGre­gor.

“He is bril­liant,” en­thused the mid­fielder. “You hear him talk­ing all the time. Ob­vi­ously we know the Euro­pean games are dif­fer­ent games. You have slightly less of the ball.

“But you hear him talk­ing about how we must still al­ways have a threat, we have to try to score.

“Once you score a goal it changes the whole dy­namic of the game.”

Celtic host Rennes to­mor­row evening as they look to con­sol­i­date top spot.

Fin­ish­ing the group as win­ners makes a dif­fer­ence when it comes to the Fe­bru­ary knock­out games with Celtic stand­ing far more of a chance if they can avoid those who will para­chute out of the Cham­pi­ons League.

As such, to­mor­row’s game car­ries weight re­gard­less of the fact Celtic know they can hang on to their pass­ports into the new year.

“We want to qual­ify top of the group as well,” said McGre­gor. “We have learned harsh les­sons in the last cou­ple of years when we have man­aged to get through but you fin­ish sec­ond and then get a Cham­pi­ons League team, which ob­vi­ously makes it dif­fi­cult in the last 32.

“It is big for us. We know we have to fin­ish the job. We have two games to fin­ish top.

“That’s where we want to be.”

CELTIC goal­keeper Fraser Forster has urged Celtic to get the win against Rennes to­mor­row night that would guar­an­tee them top spot in their Europa League group.

A win against the whip­ping boys of Group E – Rennes have taken just one point from four games – would guar­an­tee Celtic that first-place fin­ish, crit­i­cal in terms of be­ing seeded in the draw for the knock­out games which take place in Fe­bru­ary.

With an ex­act­ing do­mes­tic cal­en­dar in De­cem­ber, a Bet­fred Cup fi­nal against Rangers and a game to end the month against the Ibrox side, Forster has tar­geted an­other three points in or­der that full fo­cus can be turned onto the home front.

Vic­tory would also give Celtic their best ever re­turn in a Euro­pean league for­mat.

“It’s just been fan­tas­tic so far,” said the keeper.

“From that first game against Rennes we’ve re­ally de­liv­ered in the Euro­pean matches.

“We’re in a fan­tas­tic po­si­tion. Ob­vi­ously now we just want to go out and win the group and fin­ish it off well.

“It would be great of we could do that in our fi­nal home game and kind of park it un­til af­ter Christ­mas.

“It’s been a fan­tas­tic run of games in the Europa League and some fan­tas­tic per­for­mances. If you’d said at the start that we were go­ing to go out and beat Lazio twice, peo­ple prob­a­bly wouldn’t have be­lieved it.

“Just in the man­ner that we did as well made it ex­tra spe­cial.

“I think we’ve done very well up un­til now but we want to fin­ish the job now and win the group.”

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