Lennon hails Celtic as Hampden hoodoo ends

15 April 2013 01:16

Celtic manager Neil Lennon hailed his players for their "monumental" efforts after they clinched a place in the Scottish Cup final following a thrilling 4-3 extra time defeat of Dundee United at Hampden.

Anthony Stokes' headed goal in extra-time ended a run of three successive defeats at the national stadium for the Hoops as they set up a final date at the end of May with Hibernian, who themselves needed extra time to defeat Falkirk in a seven-goal thriller on Saturday.

And Lennon praised his players as he reflected on a season where Celtic have been the runaway leaders of the Scottish Premier League and claimed a last-16 place in the Champions League following some impressive performances.

"I'm thrilled and so proud of the players. They've had a monumental season up to now," Celtic manager Neil Lennon said.

"We are a point away from winning the title, we've had a great European campaign, we just fell short in the League Cup semi-final and now we're in a cup final.

"They've performed heroically. You can see some of them are dead on their feet at the minute.

"Mentally and physically it's been really tough for some of them but we're there and I'm delighted for the club and the supporters but more importantly I'm really delighted for the players.

"I'm glad to get over the line at Hampden for the first time in a while and now we've got a cup final that we need to win."

At Hampden, there was barely 80 seconds on the clock when Kris Commons opened the scoring for Celtic for the fourth match running with a superb strike.

Mikel Lustig hit the post with a header before a breakaway move saw United grab a 24th minute equaliser through Gary Mackay-Steven.

United edged themselves ahead on the half hour mark through Jon Daly's header but held their lead for just over a minute before Victor Wanyama nodded Celtic level.

Celtic regained their advantage through a freak goal which Commons put in with his chest on the hour mark but Daly directed a super header past Fraser Forster to haul United back on level terms in the 71st minute.

With the match in extra time Daly came within inches of a hat-trick as he sent a header off the post before Stokes bulleted the winner past Radoslaw Cierzniak in the 104th minute.

The win keeps Celtic on track for a domestic double and Lennon, who has yet to win a league and cup double as manager, admitted the prospect kept the season alive for his players.

"We're the only team that can do it now. It would be pretty special for the players to do that," the Celtic manager said.

"If we don't it's still been a fantastic season. We're going to win the league, we've made a semi-final, we've made a final and we made the last 16 in Europe with a squad that's relatively young and didn't cost a lot of money compared to previous teams that have been built here.

"There were still some signs of the basic mistakes and a little bit of nervousness about us at times today.

"But maybe getting over the line with that today will stand them in good stead.

"It would be nice to finish with the double. Hibs have their own incentives to win it and their own experiences of last year may stand them in good stead going into the final.

"So it's a very interesting cup final for lots of reasons. This result today was pivotal for us, otherwise the season might just have petered out. But that's not going to happen now."

Source: AFP

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