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Lennon abuse expected to bring edge to tie

THERE is a match at Parkhead this afternoon which really didn't need any additional spice added to it.

Lennon: "I've got great time for Aberdeen as a club. I don't apportion any blame to them" Picture: SNS
Lennon: "I've got great time for Aberdeen as a club. I don't apportion any blame to them" Picture: SNS

Celtic versus Aberdeen is a meeting of the two strongest teams in Scotland. It's a Scottish Cup tie with a quarter-final place at stake, and a game in which Celtic seek to protect their long sequences of unbeaten games and clean sheets.

A revitalised Aberdeen are out to maintain an even longer run of their own: the last time the club lost a Scottish Cup tie at Parkhead was in 1951 and today will be their fifth visit in the tournament since then. Around 3000 Aberdeen supporters are expected. The Celtic turnout is harder to predict - the match is not on their season-tickets - but the crowd might nudge over 40,000.

And yet it is inevitable that an additional charge of electricity will go through the crowd because of what happened last week at Tynecastle, when Neil Lennon had things thrown at him when he sat close to Aberdeen supporters at their League Cup semi-final against St Johnstone. Social media has been aflame with claim and counter-claim between the two sets of fans all week. There is likely to be an edge to the atmosphere as a result of that, but not necessarily anything more significant than that.

"I wouldn't have thought so, there might be a few words exchanged," said Lennon. "But I think people are coming to the game because, on paper, it's a very good game to watch. It's a cup tie, it's separate from the league and there's always that added ingredient, that spice to it, so it should be a cracking atmosphere."

Lennon condemned the handful of individuals responsible for his treatment last week but made no attempt to disguise his admiration for the broader Aberdeen support. More than 12,000 packed three of the four Tynecastle stands and created an almighty, raucous din. "I think the atmosphere last week actually spooked St Johnstone because they didn't get off to the best of starts," he said. "It took them a wee while to settle and I think that was down to the atmosphere that the Aberdeen fans generated."

Celtic and Aberdeen have a sound working relationship at boardroom level. Lennon and his counterpart, Derek McInnes, also have great mutual respect. McInnes made a point of expressing his support for Lennon in the aftermath of the Tynecastle episode. "I've appreciated what's been said," Lennon added. "I would like to think they would expect me to say the same thing, which I would. I've got great respect for Derek and I think he's doing a terrific job. I've got great time for Aberdeen as a club. I don't apportion any blame to them. The clubs, Aberdeen and Celtic, have a good relationship."

Aberdeen have a better chance than anyone of scoring against and beating Celtic, feats which have been beyond any of their other domestic opponents recently. Celtic's only domestic defeat this season was in a home cup tie, to Morton in the League Cup way back on September 24. The last domestic player to score against them was Aberdeen's Niall McGinn, in a 3-1 Celtic league win on November 23.

Both of the teams' previous meetings resulted in victories for the Parkhead outfit. But the first, by 2-0 at Pittodrie in August, came after Jamie Langfield was sent off after 45 goalless minutes. And the 3-1 game at Parkhead was poised at 1-1 after 90 minutes before Celtic scored twice in stoppage time. Aberdeen are in the League Cup final and second to Celtic in the league during what has been, so far, their most impressive campaign for several years.

"I think it's good for the game," said Lennon. "They are a big club and I did say at the start of the season I expected them to be the team chasing us. Barry Robson and Willo Flood are very good pals off the field and they were brilliant here [when playing for Celtic]. I think they've added a bit of backbone to Aberdeen which was probably missing for a while. Aberdeen are very good on the counter attack. They've got pace wide. I'm a big fan of Peter Pawlett, he's had a very good season and Adam Rooney will come in and make them better as well, he knows how to lead the line. They are definitely a handful going forward but then we are too. Our onus is to take the game and we will attack Aberdeen at every opportunity.

"If you'd told me when Niall scored that we'd go through December, January and into February without conceding a [domestic] goal I'd have been incredulous but it speaks volumes for the players and the way they're playing at this minute. The unbeaten run is something they are very proud of as well."

The tie has so much going for it that something quite newsworthy has been reduced to a footnote. Either from the start or as a substitute, Leigh Griffiths is likely to make his Celtic debut.

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