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Neil Lennon: our fans are still the best in the world bar none

Neil Lennon admits the suspension of unruly Celtic supporters was inevitable following the trouble at last Friday night's Scottish Premiership game against Motherwell at Fir Park but offered a robust defence of the Hoops support as a whole.

The Parkhead boss was speaking ahead of the final Champions League fixture against Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Wednesday night which has been, in part, overshadowed by off-field issues involving some Hoops supporters.

Celtic suspended 128 fans from their games and relocated 250 season-ticket holders following damage caused to seats at the stadium.

Smoke bombs and flares were also thrown during their 5-0 win against Well, which followed a 7-0 drubbing of Hearts, while the Scottish Professional Football League described the scenes at Fir Park as "shameful" and promised an investigation.

Political banners displayed at Celtic's Champions League game against AC Milan last month have led to the club being called to a disciplinary hearing by UEFA but Lennon tried to put it all in context.

"I think there was an air of inevitability about it (action taken by the club) and they have dealt with it as quickly and decisively and the best way they think going forward," he said.

"It just put a negative on it (the two good results).

"Look, our supporters are the best in the world bar none.

"We have had a few problems of late which the club are trying to deal with as swiftly and as best they can.

"But that is not going to take away from the fantastic support we have - not just in Britain but around the world - and the great relationships our supporters forge with other clubs and the respect both sets of supporters have for each other here (in Barcelona)."

The Northern Irishman, whose side are guaranteed to finish bottom of Group H and whose European campaign consequently finishes tomorrow night, insists he is still a fan of Friday night football but is wary of the possibility of the sale of alcohol at games returning to the agenda.

"I like Friday night games," he said.

"I experienced them myself as a player, I think the players enjoyed the occasion and you could see that with the way they played, it was a spectacular performance so I hope that is not the end of it.

"It (alcohol at football) was an idea that was mooted to try to bring a little more flavour to the atmosphere.

"I have no proof that alcohol was involved (at Fir Park) but it certainly doesn't help."

Emilio Izaguirre picked up his third booking against AC Milan in the last Group H fixture and will miss the game but Lennon welcomes back right-back Adam Matthews, who is contention after recovering from shoulder surgery which kept him out for seven weeks.

Skipper Scott Brown returns after missing the last three European games through suspension, following a clash with Barca star Neymar at Parkhead in October, which interested the local reporters more.

The Hoops boss said after the 1-0 defeat in Glasgow: "I don't think Neymar does himself any favours by the way he behaves at times."

Lennon stood by his comments ahead of the rematch, although he was liberal in his praise of the Barca star.

He said: "We won't treat Neymar any differently from any of the other 10 or 11 world class players Barcelona have in their team.

"It was the first time I saw Neymar play live and I was very impressed and I think he will be a wonderful addition to the Barcelona team.

"I think he is very talented but I stand by what I said on the evening, I did think he made more of the contact than necessary.

"However, Scott knows that he is in the wrong and he has served his punishment and I think he is looking very much forward to playing tomorrow.

"I wouldn't say he (Neymar) is doing it all the time at all, I think it was exaggerated in that instance.

"It is not a major criticism of the player. I think he is going to light up the football world over the next five to 10 years."

Asked about the effect Brown's absence had on the club's chances of getting into the last-16 of the tournament for the second successive season, Lennon replied: "It hurt us because he is our captain, a leader on and off the field and there is no question his presence was missed in the three games.

"But that is history. This is a great occasion and we are very much looking forward to it.

"Three points is not enough, I think we deserve more out of the group but we are going to have to play very well tomorrow night.

"We are going to need great discipline, concentration and athleticism tomorrow night and we have to be brave on the ball and even then it may not be enough.

"But we want to come away with some satisfaction if not the result."

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