FOR Neil Lennon, the priority this evening is to ensure that Celtic make it to the group stages of the Europa League at the very least. Even if they do though, the sting of their Champions League qualifying exit is unlikely to be salved.

That pain was only exacerbated as the Celtic manager watched his side’s conquerors, Ferencváros, progress to the promised land of the Champions League group stages during the week. For Lennon, the feeling of what might have been after the failure of his own team to defeat the Hungarian champions has only been heightened by their success.

Celtic, in his view, should not only have beaten Ferencváros, but are a better team. The only way to prove just how good they are in the European stage now though, is to make sure they make the most of their second chance.

“We were really disappointed not to beat Ferencváros as we only had ourselves to blame,” Lennon said. “But we dominated Ferencváros - we should have won the game comfortably.

“That gives me a lot of encouragement going forward that we can do that to teams. But we have to be concentrated for the 90 minutes in all the right areas.

“It’s good for Ferencváros that they got through but for me it’s tinged with disappointment but encouragement because in terms of our overall performance we were better than them – a lot better than them.

“We can build on that in the Europa League. The important thing is to get through.

“The whole thing opens up if you get into the group stages. The you can start to really look forward to the big games and the development of the team.”

It is in fact that development of his players that is uppermost in Lennon’s thoughts when it comes to European competition, though those around the boardroom table may prioritise the financial rewards more so this season than any other given the wider context.

“It’s important for the club to have European football every year,” Lennon said. “It’s important for the players.

“It’s been a little bit of a transitional period over the past five to six weeks, but we are starting to see the squad settle.

“We’ve freshened things up here and there because we’ve had a block of seven games. This is the sixth one and then we’ve obviously got St Johnstone at the weekend.

“We’ve won five out of five and we’ll endeavour to win all seven now.

“It would be really important [to get through] and would put us on a really decent financial footing.

“The money is a by-product life the game really. We’ve not really given it that much thought. I just want us to get through and play well and we’ll have to.

“We want to build on the weekend’s performance and come away with a good win.

“We’re going to have to play really strongly and be really concentrated at set plays.

“If we can do that, we believe we’ve got the firepower to win the game.”

The packed schedule that Lennon references might have been seen to have been a hindrance in previous seasons, but after an interrupted start to their campaign, he doesn’t believe that fatigue will be a factor.

Indeed, he thinks that Celtic’s weekend win over Hibernian may be of more value to them ahead of the game against Sarajevo than the break that was afforded to their opponents ahead of the fixture.

“A lot of countries do that.,” he said. “Ferencváros, Cluj, a lot of Eastern European countries tend to do that for their teams.

“Whether it’s an advantage or not, that remains to be seen. I’m glad we played a game at the weekend as we played so well.

“Psychologically that will give us a confidence boost. It was a good performance against a good side.

“I expect Sarajevo to take out very seriously as we are. We’ve got to play it like a cup final and put in a really strong performance and play hard.”

Celtic’s cause has been boosted by the return of Leigh Griffiths to the squad, with the forward making the bench for the win over Hibs. It is a timely lift too, with Albian Ajeti unable to make the journey.

“He’s ready to play a part,” Lennon said. “He’s really handy to have around so he could get game time if we need him.

“We’ll gauge that as we go along but he’ll definitely be in the squad.

“He’s doing okay although he’s obviously not played a lot of football, but he’s been training the past few weeks and has looked more up to speed.

“Obviously the cardiovascular and match fitness through not playing games is lacking but it’s good to have him back in the squad and he’s been training well.”