Len­non will rel­ish Ibrox caul­dron

● Man­ager ex­pects to take flak as he re­turns to Rangers’ home with Celtic but says he thrives on the hos­til­ity

The Scotsman - - WEEKEND SPORT - By STEPHEN HAL­L­I­DAY

The l ast t i me Neil Len­non man­aged Celtic at Ibrox, back in March 2012, he was forced to watch the sec­ond half of the match on a TV in the press room af­ter be­ing dis­missed from the tech­ni­cal area.

In a de­press­ing in­di­ca­tion of the depth of hos­til­ity from Rangers sup­port­ers to­wards him, Len­non was ad­vised by Celtic’s own se­cu­rity staff not to take a seat in the Ibrox stand or di­rec­tors’ box.

In the seven years since, it’s safe to say the ran­cour has hardly abated. But as he pre­pares to lead newly- crowned eight- i n- a- row cham­pi­ons Celtic across t own f or t he fi­nal Old Firm show­down of the sea­son to­mor­row, there is a part of in­terim man­ager Len­non which rel­ishes the vil­i­fi­ca­tion likely to come his way from much of the home sup­port.

“I’d much pre­fer to still be play­ing in th­ese games,” said the for­mer Celtic cap­tain who lined up in 33 Old Firm games as a player.

“But do you get a kick out of it? Yeah, you do. Be­cause they fear you. That’s why you get all the abuse. If I was just a runof- the- mill player, they would just dis­re­gard me. So I think t here i s a cer t ain el­e­ment of fear within them when it comes to me.”

Len­non made a win­ning re­turn to the fix­ture in March, over­see­ing the 2- 1 win at Celtic Park which ef­fec­tively put the ti­tle be­yond Rangers’ reach. “It was ob­vi­ously a bit dif­fer­ent for me, be­cause I was only a few weeks into the job, but I thought it was a re­ally good game that ebbed and flowed,” he re­flected.

“There has been good qual­ity in all the games be­tween the t wo teams this sea­son. Celtic had the up­per hand in the first one at Park­head in Septem­ber, Rangers were bet­ter in the sec­ond one at Ibrox in De­cem­ber. We were bet­ter in the third game and God knows what the fourth one will bring.

“It’s a great fix­ture to play in. Great at­mos­phere, in­tim­i­dat­ing, all those things that test you. It will be two teams go­ing hard at it again.”

If Len­non has a ri­val as the bete noire of the Rangers fans, it is his cap­tain Scott Brown whose Scot­tish FA mis­con­duct charge for his part in the ac­ri­mo­nious scenes at the end of that last Old Firm clash was not proved by a dis­ci­plinary tri­bunal.

“Scott is a big- game player, he’s been a big- game player for 12 years here,” ob­served Len­non “He’s a big per­son­al­ity. He takes the hits, he gets up and en­joys it and he thrives in the at­mos­phere. That’s what you want from your cap­tain. He leads by ex­am­ple.

“Maybe t en years ago he played with a chip on his shoul­der. He was young, he was brash. But over the last seven or eight years he’s ma­tured into a top- class mid­fielder and a top- class cap­tain. He knows how to play the game.

“T h a n k f u l l y t h e r i g h t de­ci­sion was made on him at the tri­bunal. My play­ers acted ver y, ver y well that day. We take of­fence at be­ing tarred with the same brush at times.”

In a week which saw Jose Mour­inho’s name linked with the Celtic man­age­rial po­si­tion, Len­non re­mains re­laxed about his own sit­u­a­tion and doesn’t be­lieve to­mor­row’s match will have any im­pact on his prospects of land­ing the job on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

“It would be a doozy, that one,” he s ai d when asked about the for­mer Real Madrid a n d Ma n c h e s t e r U n i t e d man­ager. “I’m not too sure how r eali s t i c t hat would be. I t would cost the club a lot money, that one.

“I speak to [ chief ex­ec­u­tive] Peter Lawwell ever y day. I speak to [ ma­jor share­holder] Der­mot Des­mond once a week. If there was any­thing happ e ni ng, I ’ m s ure t hey would be the first to tell me, rather than me read­ing about any­thing.

“I’ve been hear­ing this all the time – you’ve got to win the first Rangers game, you’ve got to win the semi- fi­nal, you’ve got to win the league, blah, blah, blah. It will have no bear­ing on my fu­ture.”

“Do you get a kick out of it? Yeah, you do. Be­cause they fear you. That’s why you get all the abuse. I think there is a cer­tain el­e­ment of fear within them when it comes to me”

NEIL LEN­NON

0 Neil Len­non on the touch­line in the Old Firm derby at Ibrox in March 2012, the last time he man­aged Celtic at the home of their arch ri­vals.

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