Neil Lennon has urged his Celtic stars to relax and show again they are the Lille deal.
The Parkhead troops jetted into France last night for the Europa League tie against their hosts on a mission to get their campaign back on track following last week’s loss to AC Milan.
Of course, the tie is about more than just Group H points for Lennon and his team.
Upon leaving their base when the wheels on their flight lifted off from the tarmac at Glasgow Airport, the squad left behind the din of criticism which has come their way in the past 12 days during a troublesome run.
Losing to the Italians came after a defeat to Rangers and before a draw at Aberdeen which capped three results which have seen Lennon and his team come into the line of fire.
Right now, the entire camp is under huge pressure to perform and produce a major result to break the chain of frustration.
It could be stressful in the Stade Pierre Mauroy, yet Lennon doesn’t want it to be.
He wants his players to relax. To enjoy themselves on a big stage and savour the environment. To park the pressures and express themselves in the way they did so spectacularly to win their Europa League group last term.
Lennon said: “I’m looking forward to the challenge and to enjoy it.
“My players should be enjoying this season and they are not really being allowed to enjoy it.
“I don’t think they need much spurring on because the atmosphere around the place is good. There’s a real unity amongst the players.
“They are always getting tested and this is just another test that we want to accomplish.”
Unfortunately for Celtic, the tests are not getting any easier.
Lille are joint-top of the Ligue One with last season’s Champions League finalists Paris St Germain.
The French haven’t lost any of their opening eight league games and started their Europa campaign with a thumping 4-1 success against Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic at the same time as Celtic were taking their misstep against Milan.
Lennon understands the practicalities of the challenge ahead beside the Belgian border and said: “We’re playing against a team that I think are Champions League quality.
“Lille have started the season really well in France and had a great win in Prague in the opening match, so it’s a real test for us.
“You can get at them in certain areas. We are going to need to be experienced as it’ll be tough playing away home, but if we can get a positive result, then it opens up the group again for us.
“We were disappointed with the result against AC Milan, but there is still plenty to play for. To play strongly against a really good side.”
© REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
Perhaps escaping the confines of home soil may help.
Although Lennon has endured big setbacks at Parkhead against the likes of Copenhagen, Cluj and Ferencvaros since returning to the hotseat, the away form on the continent has been impressive.
Celtic have lost just a single game out of their last 10 road trips and that only came about after resting key players in Romania last December against Cluj for a dead rubber when they’d already won the group.
Encouragingly for the manager, success over French opposition played a large part in topping the section when his team were away able to handle Rennes on their own patch when winning a point across the English Channel before they returned to Glasgow to beat them and secure their position in top spot and a place in the last 32 of the competition.
© REUTERS Ryan Christie equalises from the spot in the 1-1 draw in Rennes
Lennon’s men have found a knack for going abroad and dealing with various situations and another big display and positive result would do much to quell some of the sounds of disgruntlement which are floating around Glasgow.
The manager launched a stiff defence of his own credentials in the wake of the criticism on the day before the team flight.
And, although he doesn’t feel his players have anything to prove to anyone given the fact some of have won the last 11 domestic trophies in a glorious run of triumph, Lennon says it might still inject fire.
Individuals such as Shane Duffy have come under heavy fire during the frustrating recent run of results and the gaffer knows what it is like to be hounded during his own playing days before moving into management and taking flak, too.
Lennon explained: “I think some of the players might use it as fuel. I’m way past that now. I had it all as a player as well.
“Maybe the first time as a manager as well, but I have my own motivations for winning things here.
“I want the best for the club. I want the best for the players.
“We are talking about three difficult games against good opposition when we haven’t been at our strongest.
“I see a gradual improvement as we go along and that’s what I’m looking for.
“I like to win, I like to win games, I am not sitting here saying everything in the garden is rosey, but neither is it as bad as everyone is making out either.”