Point made: Lennon hails Bhoys after 'decent' start to European campaign
22:20 GMT, 19 September 2012
Neil Lennon lauded his Celtic players after they battled to an opening-night point against Benfica.
In a game of few chances, the Scottish champions couldn’t find a way past the Portuguese defence to snatch the win they so badly craved.
But, having fielded a side with 10 Champions League debutants, the Celtic manager looked upon the outcome as a point gained rather than two dropped.
Content: Neil Lennon was pleased with his Celtic side's performance
‘I haven’t set the team any targets but what I did say to them was if you aren’t going to win it, don’t lose it. So we’ve learned something there — we’ve gained a point already. It’s a decent start,’ he said. ‘I always felt we could compete and I hope we’ve gained a bit more respect tonight from the footballing world.
‘I think a draw was probably a fair result. We didn’t work their goalkeeper as often as we would have liked but, having said that, I was very pleased with the team performance.
‘There was a very good tempo and a very good shape to us. We were committed and played with real zest and no fear against a very good side. It’s a decent start for us.
‘It could have been better but could have been worse.
‘The players have sampled it now and have got a feel of it. There were 10 guys out there making their Champions League debuts against a very experienced side, so I’m very proud of the team tonight.’
Over; The Celtic players walk off the pitch after securing a point with Benfica
Lennon was able to list Gary Hooper only as a substitute after the Englishman failed to fully shake off a knock sustained against St Johnstone.
Already missing a string of automatic selections, Lennon felt his makeshift side performed to the best of their capabilities.
‘Our leading goalscorer was ruled out to start this morning and we’re hoping Georgios (Samaras) will be fit for Moscow. But I was delighted with Miku. I thought he led the line really well. He showed what a good player he is.
‘Maybe our final ball at times lacked that bit of cutting edge but there were some superb performances.
‘I thought Charlie Mulgrew had a fantastic game, as did Adam Matthews, Kelvin Wilson, Victor Wanyama and Scott Brown.
‘I thought Brown, especially in the second half, was colossal for the team. He just gives the team real drive.’
Frustrated: Celtic were unable to find a way past the Benfica defence
Asked if he felt his side were capable of taking points on the road, Lennon replied: ‘Yes. It’s a different animal playing away from home, we know that.
‘We will probably have to get something away from home in one of the games anyway. It’s a tall order with our history in the competition but this is a different team and hopefully they can produce something away from home, although I won’t put my hat on that.
‘They’ll be the happier going away from the game tonight but there wasn’t anything between the teams.
‘I think we’d have lost that game this time last year. That’s four clean sheets in Europe this season and we haven’t lost a game since Atletico Madrid last year.
‘You’d like to win your home games but there are so many positives to take from this.’