‘It’s NOT a sending off’: Neil Lennon insists Nir Bitton should not have seen red for foul on Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos as Celtic boss reveals plan to sign stand-in for Christopher Jullien
- Celtic boss Neil Lennon says Nir Bitton should not have seen red against Rangers
- The stand-in centre-back earned a dismissal for bringing down Alfredo Morelos
- Lennon also revealed that he wants to sign a replacement for Christopher Jullien
- Rangers saw off Celtic 1-0 in the Scottish Premiership to advance 19 points clear
Neil Lennon has insisted referee Bobby Madden was wrong to make the game-changing decision to red card Celtic defender Nir Bitton as Rangers won the Old Firm derby 1-0 at Ibrox.
Bitton, deployed at centre-back as a replacement for the injured Christopher Jullien, hauled down Alfredo Morelos in the 62nd minute of Saturday’s game.
Within eight minutes, Callum McGregor had scored the own goal that settled the match and opened up a 19-point gap that all but ends Celtic’s title hopes and places further scrutiny on the manager.
Referee Bobby Madden’s decision to send off Nir Bitton has been questioned by Neil Lennon
Kristoffer Ajer (right) also challenged Madden after the stand-in centre-back was dismissed
Lennon said: ‘I’m bitterly disappointed as we were the better team. The referee has made the wrong decision and it has changed the course of the game.
‘It’s not a sending off. It’s a foul – we had Ajer on the cover and Morelos is in a wide position. It’s not a clear and obvious goalscoring opportunity.
‘He might get a shot off but he’s certainly not clean through on goal. I think he is too quick to get his red card out.
‘I’m really proud of the performance. I thought we were outstanding up until the red card, which changed the course of the game. We were in total control – dominating the game, dominating the play, dominating the chances.
Lennon was proud of his team’s performance as they lost 1-0 to city rivals Rangers in the derby
‘Again, we’ve been done by a pretty poor refereeing decision. I didn’t think he was great all day. He’s made the decision straight away.’
Lennon, who admitted he had not spoken to Madden about the decision afterwards, continued: ‘Nir has not done great – he’s got himself in the wrong body position. But he (Morelos) is not clean through. Ajer was on the cover.
‘We had to rejig things and we were really unfortunate with the goal. Our goalkeeper had nothing to do today – nothing.
‘We needed a goal to top off our first-half performance. We felt the goal was coming until the red card which changed the course of the game. In a game of this magnitude, it’s a really rash decision from the referee.’
Under-pressure Lennon wants to make a signing to replace crocked regular Christopher Jullien
Unbeaten in the league, Rangers’ form offers little encouragement that Celtic can effect the turnaround necessary to clinch a tenth successive title.
Lennon insists he is not giving up.
He added: ‘You have got to keep going. You can’t just say it’s over because there is still a lot of football to be played.
‘We have to be a lot more consistent in the second half of the season than we have been in the first half.
‘There was plenty of belief in that performance. If we keep playing like that, we won’t have any problems at all.
Bitton was ordered off for a clumsy foul on Alfredo Morelos (right) but Lennon will not give up
‘Our performances of late have been excellent and I thought we were excellent today. The manner of their goal, the red card, all those things went against us today. That’s football.’
The common view held that Celtic needed to win yesterday if only to sow some doubt in Rangers’ minds after a relentless start to the season.
Lennon insists it’s no given that Steven Gerrard’s team will retain their form.
‘You can’t say that,’ he added. ‘I thought there was a lot of anxiety out there today and we had control of the game.
‘It may be a pivotal moment in the season, I can’t predict what is going to happen in the second half, but we have to keep playing like that, keep being consistent, keep winning games and apply as much pressure as we possibly can.
Celtic were widely thought to have needed a win to have had any chance of winning the league
‘We have a lot to do now. We came here to win and we played that way.
‘It’s funny, we looked assured, strong and we were by far the dominant team yet we come away with nothing. That happens in football sometimes. I don’t think we got what we deserved today.
‘Over the past few derby games everyone has been saying Rangers have been the better team but I think today we were the better team.
‘We made them look laborious at times and we were well on top. Allan McGregor got man of the match which speaks volumes for our performance.
‘There is no doubt the sending off had a huge impact on the game. We had to change our shape, change personnel, which we didn’t want to do.
Lennon argued that the dismissal changed the game and now intends to enhance his options
‘We had felt the longer the game went on, we would win the game, not lose it.
Meanwhile, Lennon revealed that he intends to enter the transfer market for a new centre-back after ruling out Christopher Jullien for several months.
Absent from the defeat to Rangers after clattering into a post making a goal line clearance against Dundee United last weekend, tests have indicated that the Frenchman has sustained significant knee damage.
The news is a huge blow to the 27-year-old, who has already missed a sizeable portion of this season with a back problem.
A £7million signing from Toulouse at the start of last season, Jullien is regarded as Celtic’s key defensive pillar. Israeli Nir Bitton filled in yesterday but was red-carded in the pivotal moment of a match settled by Callum McGregor’s own goal.
Callum McGregor’s own goal gave Celtic a narrow loss in the potentially decisive showdown
Lennon will use the transfer window to source a replacement.
He said: ‘Chris is going to be out for a few months. He has ruptured ligaments in his knee and obviously that was a blow coming into day’s game.
‘So yes, it is an area where we will probably look to bring someone in.’
Although there is no official winter break this season, Lennon and his players were last night due to fly to Dubai for a shortened four-day stint at their normal mid-winter training base.
Traditionally, the warm weather has breathed new life into Celtic’s form in the second portion of the season but even with three games in hand, a 19-point deficit looks impossible to claw back.
Lennon insists his team will fight on and says the trip to the Middle East will be no jolly.
He added: ‘It’s not a break, it’s a training camp. It’s just a change of scenery. We just hope to come back refreshed and ready to go.
‘I don’t think (Rangers) had an attempt on target so that suggests how well we played, even with 10 men. We are bitterly disappointed not to come away with something. I thought we deserved a lot more.’
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