Football - We disproved 'big game' claims - Lennon

Celtic manager Neil Lennon admits he took great satisfaction in proving wrong the sceptics who doubted his team could rise to the big occasion when they completed their Champions League group campaign.

Football - We disproved 'big game' claims - Lennon

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Neil Lennon praised Celtic's 'great maturity' to come good on the big occasion

Lennon's side have faced accusations that they cannot handle big games following Hampden cup defeats to Ross County, Rangers and Kilmarnock and Hearts. But Celtic proved the majority of Europe wrong by qualifying for the Champions League knockout stages in a run that also included a famous win over Barcelona.

Kris Commons kept his nerve to convert a late penalty winner that sent them through with a 2-1 win against Spartak Moscow. "The players have played brilliantly," Lennon said. "I was really impressed with them in the qualification games because they were the real pressure games and they handled the group really, really well."

He added: "They showed great maturity in the second half on Wednesday when all the pressure was on them. They have handled any situation thrown at them and come out the other side very, very well.

"I'm just glad we got over that fine line, because there were a lot of times people were saying during my management career that they seemed to fall short in the big games. Well, we have done that and we have done it in spades now and for me that's very satisfactory."

Celtic's victory over Barcelona saw Lennon receive a congratulatory phone call from Sir Elton John, but there was a more predictable well-wisher this week in the shape of Sir Alex Ferguson, whose Manchester United side are potential opponents for the Hoops when the draw is made next Thursday.

"Sir Alex sent me a text congratulating me," Lennon said. "He has been fantastic throughout this whole campaign, just little bits of advice here and there. Nothing major but he was delighted for us and delighted for the club. What I did say is 'I hope to God we don't draw you'. And he said 'If you do then make sure there is a nice bottle of wine waiting for me'."

However, Lennon will try to banish thoughts of the Champions League for now as Celtic first face Kilmarnock in the SPL on Saturday at lunchtime before a Scottish Cup replay at Arbroath on Wednesday night.

Lennon, whose side have dropped points after five European games this season, said: "It's obviously been a nice distraction but a distraction nonetheless from domestic duties.

"It's a fantastic achievement and we are all delighted and really looking forward to it, but it's not going to come round till February now and we can really concentrate on the SPL and cup competitions, which is the main focus and always is the priority."

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