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Criticism after cup defeat is 'ridiculous'

IT is one of the eternal verities of Scottish football:

Neil Lennon believes that Motherwell fans should show a bit more patience with Stuart McCall
Neil Lennon believes that Motherwell fans should show a bit more patience with Stuart McCall

as sure as night follows day, abuse follows defeat. Nothing can undo months or even seasons of goodwill as quickly as a distressing result. Neil Lennon has his own handful of bloody noses in cup ties and European matches and can testify to the fact that a section of supporters will, even if only temporarily, turn on a favoured son.

He was immediately supportive yesterday when it was put to him that five days ago Stuart McCall suffered the same treatment. The hurt and embarrassment of being knocked out of the William Hill Scottish Cup by Albion Rovers was the catalyst for some stinging verbal abuse to come McCall's way.

"It's just ridiculous," said Lennon, whose Celtic team face Motherwell at Fir Park tonight. "He has turned down bigger clubs to stay so they should cut him a bit of slack. The job he has done over the last couple of years has been tremendous, and it's difficult. He has lost really good players, players who were excellent at this level - the player of the year last year [Michael Higdon] and one of the better goalies in the league [Darren Randolph] - so they should show a bit more patience and a bit more respect. It can happen.

"Motherwell are third in the league so they aren't having that bad a season. If you don't take your chances bad results like that can happen. They will be disappointed but they just have to refocus. I hope they don't find their form against us. They have their own agenda to set but the criticism of Stuart was totally unjustified."

In 2009, Celtic won 7-0 against St Mirren and then lost to the same team when they met again a week later. Having routed Hearts by seven unanswered goals on Sunday they must now guard against a similar scenario against Motherwell. The sympathy Lennon had for McCall, for having to cope with the loss of senior players like Higdon, Randolph and Henrik Ojamaa, was accompanied by respect for a consistently difficult opponent. Celtic have played at Fir Park twice in 2013 and lost on both occasions.

"Our performance on Sunday has been coming, we just seemed to get it altogether," he said. "They were in the mood and they wanted a reaction themselves after losing the AC Milan game. Whether we can replicate that again at Motherwell is another thing because it's not easy to do. But we are all delighted with the standard that they set for themselves."

Celtic's lead in the SPFL Premiership is not in danger tonight but Lennon is eager to prolong their unbeaten league run which currently sits at all 13 games since the start of the campaign. He was not up for speculating on going the whole season unbeaten - "it's too early to say, ask me if we're still there after 20, 25 games" - but is now preparing for a distinct, new phase of the season without European examinations. The Champions League campaign will wrap up against Barcelona on Wednesday but the match is a dead rubber because Celtic are already condemned to finishing bottom of their section.

Exercising the right every SPFL Premiership club has to request the cancellation of a league game on January 11 - they will instead face Kilmarnock on January 29 - means Celtic will not play between January 4 and 18. The intention is to take the squad to a training camp, possibly in Turkey, and perhaps to play a friendly or two there.

Other housekeeping will be done in the coming weeks, pursuing signing targets and seeking a resolution to the ongoing contract discussions with Joe Ledley. The Welshman has yet to agree to the terms on offer but Lennon seemed relaxed about the matter: "Joe knows our position and the way he is playing we'd dearly love to keep him. He's not got back to us. It's not 'take it or leave it', there might be a bit of give and take one way or the other but the bulk of the offer's there."

James Forrest, Biram Kayal, Tom Rogic, Adam Matthews and Steven Mayokoulo are out tonight while Nir Biton and Georgios Samaras have a virus and will be checked today. Forrest has a slight hamstring strain and may return in time to play in Barcelona.

The manager also posed for pictures at Lennoxtown yesterday with club director Brian Wilson, author of a new book, "The Official History of Celtic Football Club."

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