Mohamed Elyounoussi's winner for Celtic can "set his season on fire" says Neil Lennon
Praise for attitude of Norwegian after spell out of the side
Celtic manager Neil Lennon is backing Mohamed Elyounoussi to take off following his 90th-minute winner against FC Riga in Latvia.
The Irishman refused to see the 1-0 win that set up the Scottish champions for a Europa League play-off round tie in Sarajevo next week as streaky, but the Irishman believes the goal by the Southampton loanee - who appeared as an 82nd minute substitute - could set up the attacker for a hot streak following a period out in the cold.
“Hopefully, that will set his season on fire. He’s a great player and a great boy and I’m delighted with him,” said Lennon of the Norwegian. “I can’t speak highly enough of him. We took him out of the team for a couple of games and he’s trained brilliantly over the last week or so.
“He took the goal fantastically well and he’s a great example to the rest of the squad. His attitude is great. He’s worked really hard in training and I thought he looked good tonight. He was probably unfortunate not to get on a bit earlier. But he’s come up with a really important goal for the team and the club.”
Lennon believes that all the display in Latvia lacked was an earlier goal on an evening in which Jeremie Frimpong excelled after replacing the stricken James Forrest in 35 minutes. The Celtic manager said the “bone bruising” that forced Forrest off was “a worry”, but claimed he was never unduly fretting over the inability to find the net in Riga before Elyounoussi struck.
“Scoring early would’ve made it a bit more comfortable,” the Celtic manager said. “You start thinking about extra time — but I thought we would get a goal eventually. The timing of the goal was perfect and we’re all delighted to have negotiated a tough place and go into the play-offs. We’ve dealt with the tie very well.
“I thought we wore them down. Of course at 0-0 you’re always they get something from a set play or a deflection, something. But they tired and I thought we would’ve been comfortable in extra time if it had come to that. But to get it done in the 90, I’m very pleased.
“Riga just operated a low block for the majority of the game and it was tough for us to get through it. They didn’t want to come out and play. I’m really glad we broke then down in the end.
“We had some great chances. [Albian] Ajeti missed a great chance, Frimpong flashed one across the face of the goal and so did Callum McGregor. We just lacked that finishing touch. But in the end, on a difficult pitch, we’ve played well and won and I’m absolutely delighted for the players.
“It was a big result. We knew going out of Europe was unthinkable. But we had prepped well for this and we looked strong. Our focus and mentality was really good. It was another important away win in Europe for us - and now we’ve got another one to negotiate.”
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