Lennon defends Kayal after Athletico ‘balls’ up

Lennon defends Beram Kayal after star ducks out of stopping Atletico winner

Beram Kayal this morning is a sitting duck for fans raging over his boast that Celtic are the best in Scotland.

Last night the Israeli was accused of ducking to avoid the ball, allowing Arda Turan to crash it past Fraser Forster for Atletico’s Madrid’s Europa League clash winner at Parkhead.

Only 24 hours earlier Kayal spoke with Record Sport crowing that the Hoops were the best in the land.

But Neil Lennon refused to blame him or Forster – and insisted the defeat would not hinder Celtic’s challenge to Rangers for the title.

The manager said: “Kayal might have misjudged the flight of the shot and that left Forster seeing the ball at the last second.

“It went in through a ruck of bodies and that leaves us with a tall order against Udinese.

“They are an excellent side and we will have to give it everything we’ve got but it’s been a long time since we won away from home.”

Forster said: “He ducked but there were plenty of other things we could have done better leading up to that so as a team it’s disappointing.

“Beram has been fantastic all season. There are probably about 10 things that should have been done differently.

“I got a decent touch and on another day that should stay out.”

Celtic have to beat Udinese in Italy on December 15 to go through but their priority is the title.

They have slashed Rangers’ lead at the top to four points and now they have two major injury doubts ahead of Sunday’s clash with Dundee United at Tannadice.

Joe Ledley and Victor Wanyama were both crocked as Celtic suffered their first defeat at home in Europe under Lennon.

But as they bid to stretch their winning run in the SPL to five games the manager insists last night’s defeat will not deter them.

He said: “Why should it? We will put this result to the back of our minds and take motivation from the fact we played well.

“We created more chances against Atletico than we did here against Rennes when we won 3-1.

“Kayal, James Forrest and Georgios Samaras were excellent and with a bit of luck we might have won.

“We created chances and matched Atletico all over the park. We deserve better.”

Lennon insisted leaving top scorer Gary Hooper on the bench at the start had more to do with tactics than Tannadice.

He said: “I wanted to match Atletico man for man in the middle of the park and that’s why I did it.”

Celtic were denied an equaliser late in the second half when the ref ruled Gary Hooper offside.

Lennon said: “That was a wee bit unfortunate.”

Celtic have to win in Italy on December 15 to go through but the Irishman said: “At the start if you had offered me the position where we still had a chance of making it to the latter stages with one match to play, I’d have taken that.

“We were the underdogs in the group who achieved a gradual level of progression against very good teams.

“I credit my players with having given it a right good go from the outset.

“Atletico have a side full of excellent players and a club with a great tradition.”

The Spaniards’ boss, Gregorio Manzano, said: “It’s hard to say if Celtic can get beyond Udinese.

“It’s 90 minutes and two teams playing so anything can happen.”