Manager aiming for positive start
By: Mark Henderson on 18 Jan, 2013 16:09
NEIL Lennon wants Celtic to kick off the second half of the season in style when they resume competitive action following the winter break on Saturday.
Hearts will be the visitors to Paradise at the weekend and Dundee United will also come calling on Tuesday night, and the manager is eager to extract maximum reward from both fixtures to maintain their healthy lead at the SPL summit.
While he knows both games will be difficult, the Irishman believes his players are eagerly anticipating a return to the pitch, having had a chance to rest, recharge and refocus during the recent training camp in Marbella.
"We have a big week with Dundee United on Tuesday and then the semi-final on Sunday," he said. "They are good games to get our teeth into. John McGlynn has a few injuries and suspensions and players leaving, but Celtic-Hearts is always a decent game.
"They made life difficult for us here in the corresponding fixture early on in the season but we want to get the second half of the season off to a positive start.
"Mentally, it was great for the players to switch off for the week. We had a nice week´s training in Marbella, nothing too intense and we got a workout against Steaua as well, so they have come back and the majority of the squad seems healthy and ready to go again.
"The players are looking forward to getting back to playing. It´s a big week. We want to cement our place at the top of the league and go into next weekend full of confidence."
Celtic signed two new players during the winter break – Rami Gershon and Tom Rogic. While the former will be in the squad for tomorrow´s visit of Hearts, the Australian youngster still requires his work permit application to be completed before he can feature.
"We have an application on Monday and he has to go back to Australia and get that all signed and stamped," said the manager. "Rami is in the squad tomorrow.
"We were pleased to get both of them. Tom is an excellent talent. He is young but has developed very well over the last year, a good mover of the ball and has a goal in him. Technically he is very good. Rami is strong, aggressive and hungry. We think they will both be good assets for the squad."
The Irishman revealed that a bid had been rejected for Gary Hooper, and that the club had no intention of allowing the striker to leave.
"We are very disappointed that this had been made public knowledge as you know we do our business as privately as possible. It´s been leaked out somewhere, so we are not happy about that.
"The bid has been rejected. We had discussion with his representatives this morning and we are waiting to hear back from them.
"We are in a good position. We don´t want to sell. We feel we have a lot to look forward to in the second half of the season. That´s always been the case.
"We don´t want any of our top players going, and Gary comes under that bracket."
James Forrest and Paddy McCourt will both miss the Hearts game through injury. Meanwhile, the manager also confirmed that goalkeeper, Lubos Kamenar, had left the club.