SPL no backwater, declares Celtic boss Lennon after Spartak Moscow victory

The Hoops boss insists that his side's remarkable comeback in Russia is proof that football north of the border cannot be derided and hopes to renew Gary Hooper's contract
Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes that his side's 3-2 Champions League win away at Spartak Moscow was a victory for Scottish football in general and proves that there is genuine quality to be found in the SPL.

The Hoops had failed to qualify for the Champions League in four seasons prior to this campaign, with the country's other traditional powerhouse, Rangers, suffering a dramatic fall from grace and now playing in the Third Division. That, coupled with the national team's lacklustre results, has drawn criticism towards the Scottish game.

Tuesday's win in Moscow comes off the back of a 0-0 draw at home to Benfica and Lennon insists that these performances serve as the perfect response to critics of his nation's football.

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He told The Daily Record: "I hope people down south take notice. It’s not a backwater league any more. There are some quality players playing up here.

"To go to Moscow and play like we did is testament to what the players are trying to do here. If people want to take pot-shots at Scottish football, fine. All we can do is answer with performances like the one in Moscow."

Gary Hooper opened the scoring at the Luzhniki and Lennon is keen to tie the forward down to a new contract, though he added: "We're hoping to talk to his agent soon about a new deal but he's probably just put £25,000 a week on his wage.

"I'm just delighted for him because he's a great kid who has been a huge player for me. Long may it continue. We want to give him a new contract and we're hoping to get that finalised soon."

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The Hoops have a double-header against Barcelona to look forward to next in the Champions League but Lennon insists that progression from Group G will not come down to the matches against the Spanish giants.

"We've given ourselves a great opportunity to qualify from the group," he explained. "We only have the small matter of Barcelona home and away now.

"You can't budget for those ties. It's about what we get away at Benfica and at home to Spartak.

"It's a huge monkey off the club's back and these players have a different mentality now going into European games because our recent away record is decent."