Christopher Jullien (far right) headed Celtic’s dramatic late winner in GlasgowChampions League Group E: Celtic v LazioVenue: Celtic Park, Glasgow Date: Wednesday, 4 October Kick-off: 20:00 BSTCoverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland Extra/DAB/810MW, live text commentary on the BBC Sport website & app
It was a night in the Eternal City that will live forever in the mind of Neil Lennon as one of the high points of his career.
Under Lennon, Celtic beat Lazio at home and then dramatically away in Rome during the 2019 Europa League group stage – coming from a goal down on both occasions.
“We were feeling good, we started the group well,” the former manager told BBC Scotland as the sides prepare to meet on Champions League duty in Glasgow. “Lazio, at the time, were second in Serie A.”
Here, the Northern Irishman relives both occasions and looks forward to an exhilarating night at Celtic Park.
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Comeback win in Glasgow
“It can raise your game,” Lennon said of the atmosphere at Celtic Park for the sides’ first group encounter.
But Manuel Lazzari did his best to quell the home crowd with Lazio’s 40th-minute opener.
“I decided to change the formation,” recalled Lennon. “We went from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2 and matched them up. That worked perfectly.
“It was an important call, it was the right call. They were just starting to impose themselves on us a lot more and I think they hit the post. That was the catalyst then for me to go, ‘right, we need to change this and get a foothold in the game’.”
Ryan Christie levelled in the 67th minute and, in the dying seconds, delivered the corner from which Christopher Jullien headed the winner.
“He could be a threat and he was very good in both boxes aerially,” Lennon said of the French defender. “He came up with some big goals for Celtic. It was a great ball and he timed the run perfectly.
“To come away with a win was very satisfying.”
Italian job follows similar patern
For the return in Rome, Celtic looked to end a record of never having beaten an Italian side away in 13 attempts.
Lazio had been ordered to close parts of their ground over the behaviour, including racism, of some of their supporters. Lennon and Celtic made it clear that they would support the players should they leave the pitch in the event of any discriminatory chanting from the diminished home crowd.
“We knew the enormity of the game,” said Lennon. “We knew how good a team Lazio were. We were quietly confident.
“We’d gone out a day earlier than we normally do and took the boys out, let them rest a little bit, went a little walk around Rome, the Colosseum and the Vatican. When it came to the game, they were really champing at the bit to play.”
Around 10,000 Celtic fans made the trip for what turned out to be a memorable night.
Celtic players celebrated after a famous night at the Olympic Stadium in Rome
“We didn’t start the game well,” Lennon said. “We were hesitant and weren’t playing to our levels. [Ciro] Immobile – one of the best around Europe – he scored a good goal.
“We scored a fantastic equaliser [through James Forrest]. From then on, we matched Lazio. It was just our night when we got the winner. It was a perfectly-timed winner.”
Olivier Ntcham scored it, in the fifth minute of injury-time, and Lennon feels the outcome was “one of the results of my career as a player or a manager”.
So what of the current incarnations of Celtic and Lazio?
“They’ve got a very experienced coach [in Maurizio Sarri] and still some players from that era of 2019,” Lennon added of the Italian outfit.
“This current Celtic team have got goals in them. Put a lot of emphasis on believing that [goalkeeper] Joe [Hart] will have a really good game.”
Neil Lennon was speaking to BBC Scotland’s Kenny Macintyre
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