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Lennon admits his side are failing to learn from experiences as penalty misses continue to baffle

THE time for anger and recrimination is over.

Charlie Mulgrew's 'side-foot' penalty perplexed the Celtic manager. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Charlie Mulgrew's 'side-foot' penalty perplexed the Celtic manager. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Apart, that is, from the contribution of certain former players and newspaper columnists to the debate. The general mood at Lennoxtown yesterday was one of honest self criticism, an attempt to analyse exactly why the club's apparent Hampden hoodoo had struck for a third time against an underdog in one of the cup competitions.

An excellent St Mirren performance during Sunday's 3-2 Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final was clearly a contributory factor, but there was soul-searching yesterday as to whether this was part of a wider malaise.

Ahead of the clean slate offered by tonight's meeting with Kilmarnock at Celtic Park, Neil Lennon admitted that even during his glorious playing days, he had never particularly enjoyed playing at the national stadium.

"Maybe at Hampden there's a lack of intensity in the stadium – you know, atmosphere, slow pitch, the logistics of the stadium," said Lennon. "But the SFA don't set up the stadium for us. It's not there for our approval. It's for everybody and we have to adapt better and play better when we go there. I wouldn't say it's alarming but that's three times we've been there and we've lost these last three games and it's hard to explain because we've been playing so well. I don't want to criticise, but I never really enjoyed playing there.

"Maybe it's because in Scotland you're used to the crowd being right there. And then when you go to Hampden it's a long, long way away. I don't really know the history of the stadium but we've been there often enough to know we're not learning from our experiences."

Then there was penalty-gate. Ironically, considering it was a late Kris Commons penalty which took Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League, the club have struggled from the penalty spot in Lennon's time, with Charlie Mulgrew's tame effort late in the second half which was beaten out by Craig Samson merely the latest symptom. The Northern Irishman even joked that goalkeeper Fraser Forster might be next in line from the spot.

"It's driving me crazy – the number of penalties we've missed in my time here," said Lennon. "It makes me angry. What they can do about it is do what they practise. Because it seems to me that some of them change their run up or change their minds before the penalty.

"I was sitting there thinking, 'C'mon then Charlie'. You expect to see the bar rattle or the net bulge, not to see him dally up and side-foot it – because I've never seen Charlie side-foot anything.

"He is as good with a dead ball as you will see. So you expect him to address the ball, run up with the conviction he normally takes set pieces with, and put all sorts on it. I don't know why he didn't do it – I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

"Now I am not going to blame Charlie Mulgrew, because he has been absolutely magnificent, but it is just decision-making, and our decision-making on Sunday, a high percentage of it was poor. Paul McGowan's wasn't a great penalty either, if Lukasz goes the right way then he'll save it. I don't like those kind of penalties – I much prefer Kris Commons' against Spartak. One which is whipped low and away from the goalkeeper, that is basically what we practise."

Lennon didn't spare his players in the immediate aftermath of the match – he compared them to spoiled children for the way they reacted to the loss of the second goal – but he defended them from external criticism yesterday and denied there would be any repercussions.

"It's all right me sitting here saying I would have done this and I would have done that but I've played in games where you're powerless at times and that happens," Lennon said. "I haven't dwelt on it at all. But if we play as poorly as that I think I have every right to be hard on them.

"I can't hide behind it or pull the wool over people's eyes; people see it for what it is. The players know that. It is very rarely that I am disappointed or angry with them and when they do well I sing their praises from the rooftops; they know when it is not acceptable."

A sheepish Adam Matthews was in agreement yesterday. "We knew we hadn't played well so he didn't say anything we didn't know," said the Welshman. "We just need to take his comments on board and put it right against Kilmarnock. He obviously wasn't very happy when he spoke to us after the game. He gave us the reaction we deserved. He's not one for throwing things, he just shouts.

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