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By ESPN Staff

SFA concede ban defeat to Lennon

Celtic have secured victory in their latest dispute with the Scottish Football Association after the governing body confirmed Neil Lennon could return to the dugout for the visit of St Mirren on April 9.

The SFA had handed Lennon two four-match touchline bans, which they believed would run consecutively.

However, they have been told this interpretation of the rules is "legally unenforceable'' after Celtic declared that the suspensions should run concurrently. Lennon will now sit out a total of five matches over the course of his two punishments.

Lennon was handed the first ban - which was reduced on appeal - following his dismissal to the stand and subsequent reaction during defeat by Hearts in November.

The second suspension came automatically after Lennon was charged with misconduct following his angry reaction towards Rangers assistant manager Ally McCoist following a Scottish Cup replay on March 2.

Celtic did not dispute this charge but laid down another challenge when their legal advisor, Paul McBride QC, declared the rules meant the punishments would overlap.

The SFA have admitted defeat on this point but expressed frustration that their disciplinary process, which is set to be updated before the start of next season, had become a "costly legal playground''.

A statement read: "Given the increasingly high stakes in football and the millions of pounds clubs are competing for in Europe, rules written by administrators to govern member clubs of the Scottish FA are being challenged on legal grounds.

"This is creating a situation where substantial sums are being invested in legal fees at a time when the game simply cannot afford it.''

The SFA said they had received "independent counsel advice'' on the point of contention and were "regrettably advised that its interpretation of the rule is legally unenforceable''.

Chief executive Stewart Regan added: "We have discussed the matter with Celtic Football Club and they accept that Neil Lennon was guilty of misconduct.

"However, with regard to the timing of the suspension we must accept that if our rules cannot be enforced in a court of law then they cannot be imposed and it is foolish to waste money defending such a point.

"We acknowledge that our rules do need updating and I have proposed to our board that we commission a complete re-write of the disciplinary procedures from a legal perspective to address this whole matter.

"Whilst we have an obligation to ensure that our rules can be legally enforced, nevertheless it is important for the future of Scottish football that we do not allow our disciplinary procedures to be used as a costly legal playground.

"We must ensure we can reach a happy balance where every decision is not subject to an appeal and football can self-govern without constant legal interventions.''

Meanwhile, Lennon expressed gratitude to supporters for their backing for the team and himself. The former Celtic skipper has not spoken publicly since his dispute with McCoist and called in round-the-clock security in the aftermath of the Scottish Cup victory, for which Rangers soon gained revenge at Hampden.

Lennon told the club's official website: "On a personal level, I would like to thank the Celtic supporters for the tremendous support which they have given me, particularly during the last few months.

"Despite not getting the result we wanted, the Celtic supporters were absolutely magnificent at the Co-operative Insurance Cup final. Our fans have a reputation for being the very best and they certainly demonstrated that last Sunday.

"They played their part in bringing us back into the game and while we never delivered the trophy, our supporters can certainly hold their heads high. We need the same kind of positive support on Saturday as we once again aim to win in Inverness.

"We need to put the cup final behind us now and look ahead. We will be focusing on the challenges which lie ahead and I can assure all our supporters that we are more motivated than ever to bring them some success this season.''

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