Lennon not giving up after Braga thump Celtic
Neil Lennon has insisted Celtic's Champions League dream was still alive - and that Aiden McGeady could be part of turning around their third qualifying round tie against Braga next week.
Lennon watched his side crash to a 3-0 defeat in Wednesday's first leg at AXA Stadium, which McGeady missed 24 hours after his manager insisted he would play.
The winger's omission fuelled speculation his Parkhead career was at an end but Lennon revealed afterwards the 24-year-old had been left out after a back problem flared up and not because he was on the brink of being sold. Even the return of McGeady will struggle to overturn the deficit Celtic left Portugal with tonight, but Lennon was adamant the tie was far from finished.
"Some people may think the tie is over; we don't,'' he said. "We've got a good record at home, we've been in this position before and we'll just have to go and be at our very best next week.
On McGeady's absence, Lennon denied knowledge of any developments on a possible move, adding: "He was complaining of a chronic back injury last night. Having spoken to the medical team, with the lack of training and the lack of game time he's had, I thought it best not to risk him. Hopefully, we'll have him for the second leg.''
Lennon criticised the performance of referee Serge Gumienny and his assistants, especially over the penalty award which allowed Alan to put Braga ahead. Lennon attempted to speak to the referee after the final whistle but was waved away.
He said of the decision to penalise Ki Sung-Yeung for handball: "His arms and his hands are down by his side; it's ball to hand. He (Gumienny) made some strange decisions. He booked Charlie Mulgrew after less than 10 minutes for time-wasting. That was just incredible. He didn't book any of the Braga players until maybe the final five minutes. So I'm not pleased with the referee's performance at all. We knew we wouldn't get much from the officials anyway.''
A 1-0 defeat would have been manageable but Celtic conceded two in the final 15 minutes to debutant Uwa Elderson Echiejile and substitute Matheus.
"We lost the game to three set-pieces, which was very disappointing,'' Lennon said. "I thought we were comfortable in the game. At times, we could have passed the ball better. Some of our better ball players didn't take care of the ball as well as they should've done at times.''
Defending tactics which saw Georgios Samaras play as a lone striker, resulting in no shots on target, Lennon said: "Our goalkeeper had one save to make in the 92, 93 minutes. We set up to be defensive and try to not give too much away.''
Although Lennon indicated McGeady still had a future at Parkhead, the same cannot be said for right-back Andreas Hinkel, who was also not in the squad - because he was not registered.
"He's got a year left on his contract and we can't afford to let that run down,'' Lennon said. "We brought in Cha (Du-Ri), so he will be predominantly the first choice right-back.''
Braga boss Domingos Paciencia agreed with Lennon that next week's second leg was far from a formality.
"It's going to be a tough match,'' he said. "At the end of this match I was reminded of the game Celtic-Benfica, that Celtic won 3-0. We're always prepared for something like this in football.''
However, he admitted he had expected more from Celtic tonight after watching them in pre-season.
"From what I saw from Celtic against Sporting (Lisbon) and Manchester United, I was expecting them to be stronger,'' he said. "But today the merit of this game is for Braga, not a demerit for Celtic.''