Neil Lennon has hit out at referee Bobby Madden after Celtic’s 1-0 defeat to Rangers and says his ‘rash’ decision to show Nir Bitton a red card ‘changed the course of the game’ at Ibrox.
Celtic were the better side in the first half of Saturday’s Old Firm derby but Bitton’s sending off – for a last-man foul on Alfredo Moreno – and Callum McGregor’s own-goal in the space of eight second-half minutes put the hosts in the driving seat.
Steven Gerrard’s men kept hold of their lead to go 19 points clear of their bitter rivals at the top of the Scottish Premiership table and Lennon said he was ‘bitterly disappointed’ to come away from the match with nothing.
But the Celtic head coach refused to criticise his players and instead took aim at the officiating in the heavyweight clash.
‘I’m bitterly disappointed. We were the better team and I think the referee has made the wrong decision and it’s changed the course of the game,’ Lennon told Sky Sports shortly after the final whistle.
‘It’s not a sending off, it’s a foul. We’ve got [Kristoffer] Ajer coming around on the cover, 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 and I think he’s too quick to get the 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 absolutely in total control, dominating the game, dominating the play, dominating the chances and once again we’ve been done by a pretty poor refereeing decision. I didn’t think he was great all day.’
The Celtic manager continued: ‘Nir’s not done great, he’s got himself in the wrong body position but he’s not clean through as Ajer was on the cover and we got really unfortunate with the goal as well.
‘We kept going and our goalkeeper had nothing to do today, nothing. We were really pleased with the first-half performance and we needed the goal to top it off.
‘We felt the goal was coming until the red card which changed the course of the game.
‘It would be a hell of a goal to beat [Vasilis] Barkas from there with Ajer coming in.
‘You can debate it all you want. For me, in a game of this magnitude, it’s a really rash decision from the referee.’
Lennon said his side made top-of-the-table Rangers look ‘very ordinary’ with their performance and suggested the Bhoys had luck on their side in the game.
‘I believe Allan McGregor got man of the match so I think that sums up our performance today,’ he added.
‘We didn’t have the luck. Rangers have had one today, they’ve had their luck over the piece, you get that here and there.
‘I’m not going to criticise the players for that performance. It was great, we were outstanding and we made them look very ordinary today.’
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