Celtic boss Neil Lennon: There was an £100m difference between the teams ... that can count sometimes

NEIL LENNON today summed up the gap between Juventus and Celtic.

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Celtic manager Neil Lennon was disappointed over the margin of defeat to Juventus
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was disappointed over the margin of defeat to Juventus

"The difference between the two teams is £100m. And sometimes that quality counts in the end," he said.

However, the bitterly disappointed Hoops boss does not accept this financial gulf should have resulted in a 3-0 defeat when they met in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.

The margin of victory, and, in particular, the way his side dropped their heads after the second goal went in 13 minutes from time, has irked Lennon.

The performance of referee, Alberto Udinao Mallenco, who took no action as Juve manhandled the Celtic players as they defended corners, was also a serious bone of contention.

Lennon accepts it will now take a miracle to retrieve the situation when the teams meet again in Turin on March 6.

But, for now, Lennon is only looking over the ashes of last night's defeat, and was brutally honest in his summation of the heaviest home Europe defeat he has suffered in his three seasons in charge.

He said: "The harsh reality is that you have to take your chances at this level.

"We played well. The set-up was fine. We pressed them high up the pitch and won the ball back in really good areas of the pitch for long periods.

"The second goal was the dambuster, really, and I felt our heads went down after that.

"That disappointed me more than anything because you have got to stay in the tie."

That opportunity went with the concession of the third goal, Efe Ambrose – just back a matter of hours after playing for three weeks at the Africa Cup of Nations – caught in possession and allowing Mirko Vucinic to shoot past Fraser Forster.

"There was no excuse for the third goal," said Lennon. "Efe had a brainstorm there. He didn't do great for the first goal, and he had a great chance to make it 1-1 with a header in the second half. That really was the game changer."

The loss of Georgios Samaras for such an important game was a bitter pill to swallow even before a ball was kicked, and Lennon revealed the Greek was a big miss.

"He wasn't really close to making it," said the boss. "Georgios was feeling it (his hamstring) even yesterday morning.

"That was a huge blow because his experience and quality would have made us better. I needed that physical presence at the top end of the pitch. But I thought we were strong and for a good 60 or 70 minutes we were excellent.

"But Efe should have scored. That was really THE chance, and that would have made a huge difference."

Despite admitting they now need a miracle if they are to have any chance of overturning Juve's lead and becoming the first Scottish side to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Lennon is determined to try and restore some pride when they go to Italy in three weeks.

"We are going there to try and compete," said the defiant Hoops boss. "We will try to get an early goal and see where that takes us. But we know it is going to be difficult."

The painful jolt as Celtic's Euro journey came off the rails in such dramatic style should not detract from the progress this team has made.

They played their opening qualifier against Helsinki way back on August 1.

They have since played another ten games to take their tally to won seven, drawn one and lost three, earning the club over £25m along the way.

But with the pain of last night's defeat still raw, Lennon is struggling to focus on the bigger picture.

When the draw for the last 16 came out, in which Celtic were the only side who had made it all the way from the qualifying rounds, he honestly believed his players were good enough to compete with a side as big as Juventus.

He said: "We felt we had an opportunity, and I didn't think there was three goals between the teams. I felt our midfield was really strong, and I don't remember Andrea Pirlo or Arturo Vidal having any impact. Their two strikers were decent, as you expect.

"But the difference between the two teams is £100m. And sometimes that quality counts in the end."

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