Celtic ready for 'cup final'

PA Sport
Neil Lennon

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Neil Lennon

Celtic manager Neil Lennon will have his side geared up for a "cup final" on Thursday night when they take on Udinese in their crunch Europa League Group I clash in Italy.

Celtic have to win to reach the knockout stages of the tournament, but face a side three points better off in the group and only behind Juventus on goal difference at the top of Serie A.

Moreover, the Hoops have won only once in 32 games on the road in Europe, a fact Lennon acknowledged at the pre-match press conference at the Stadio Friuli, saying: "It is a daunting proposition for any team to come here, but in that respect we know what we have to do."

He added: "We are in good form, off the back of six wins in the league and confidence is good. Each of the Europa games there has been a natural progression, it is a young team who are learning all the time and we will treat it like a cup final.

"It is a great incentive and one that we are all looking forward to. Going into the campaign a lot of people would have made us the whipping boys but we are very pleased with the way the team have played in the previous five games."

Udinese coach Francesco Guidolin would not reveal if he will play his top scorer, 34-year-old striker Antonio Di Natale, and Lennon would gladly see the veteran striker on the bench.

He said: "Di Natale has been a world-class player for a number of years and certainly he has been a consistent goalscorer in Serie A, and an international player of some regard for quite a while.

"However, Udinese are not a one-man team, they have a number of good players in a number of positions, hence that is why they are at the top of Serie A."

Glenn Loovens did not travel after sustaining a hamstring injury against Hearts on Saturday, but Lennon is confident he has the strength in depth to cope with the loss, adding: "Kris Commons, Mark Wilson, Adam Matthews and Joe Ledley are all out of the squad."

"It is a blow to us (to lose Glenn), he has been playing very well. It is two steps forward and one back. Kelvin Wilson is fit and will be in contention. We also have options with Charlie Mulgrew and Victor Wanyama, so we are all right for cover."

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