Lennon salutes solid display as Celtic progress in Champions League qualifying
Neil Lennon saluted another professional performance after Celtic completed their Tallin job and moved a step closer to the group stages of the Champions League.
A first-half own goal and a stunning debut strike from Marian Shved ensured the Hoops avoided any bother in the Baltics, running out 2-0 second-leg winners over Estonian champions Nomme Kalju and completing a thumping 7-0 aggregate victory.
It was a solid display, albeit one understandably lacking in intensity, which set up a meeting with Romanian side Cluj in the third round of qualifying.
Hoops boss Lennon said: “I’m very happy with the scoreline, with the performance, and very happy with the scoreline over the two legs.
“I’m happy to get important minutes into some of the players who haven’t had that luxury, and to come through injury free.
“This tie was always going to be different because of the lead we had, and scoring the early goal was important. I’m very pleased with the attitude and the complete performances we have showed so far.”
Lennon was able to rest six of his players following last week’s 5-0 first-leg win, with Saturday’s Ladbrokes Premiership opener against St Johnstone in mind.
Christopher Jullien – the £7million signing from Toulouse – enjoyed a comfortable debut at the back while goalkeeper Craig Gordon kept a clean sheet on his first appearance since December.
Olivier Ntcham was also back in the starting line-up for the first time since intimating he wanted to leave the club.
Lennon was far from happy with the French midfielder but gave him a shot at redemption.
Ntcham went some way to making amends by linking up with Mikey Johnston as the Hoops took the lead, and stretched their advantage to six, after only 10 minutes.
Johnston drilled the ball across goal and Kalju defender Aleksandr Kulinits, with Leigh Griffiths breathing down his neck, sliced the ball into his own net.
Jullien missed out on a first Celtic goal when he headed a free-kick over, before another debutant took to the field in the shape of Shved.
The Ukrainian winger almost made an instant impact but his effort was bravely blocked by home goalkeeper Pavel Londak.
But as the game moved into stoppage time, Shved took aim from 20 yards out and pinged a superb shot into the top corner.
“I was very pleased with Christopher, it was important he got 90 minutes,” added Lennon.
“And then Marian comes on – he’s had a frustrating time with a groin injury – he got a good 25 minutes and scored a great goal to wrap up the tie.
“You could see what the goal meant to him and it will give him a huge shot in the arm.”
Celtic now have two more rounds to negotiate, starting with another step up in class against Cluj next week, if they are to reach the group stages.
“I thought we had a tough first-round tie against Sarajevo, we negotiated that well and negotiated this one brilliantly, so we are in a good place,” said Lennon.
“The quality does get stronger as you go along, but we’ll cross that bridge and be well prepared.
“Winning tonight keeps the momentum going into Saturday and, judging by the dressing room, we’ve come through unscathed.”