Neil Lennon has accepted that Thursday night’s Europa League game against Sparta Prague is make or break for Celtic’s European ambitions. 

The Parkhead side have taken just one point from their opening three games in Group H but could inject some life into their campaign with a win over Sparta this week.

Anything other than three points would realistically be the end of any pretension of progression although a victory could change the dynamic and offer Celtic the slim opportunity of a late charge.

A win would enable them to leapfrog Sparta while something will have to give between table-toppers Lille and AC Milan who meet in France. Certainly, though, given the limp performance against Sparta in Glasgow as Celtic were humbled 4-1 against a team who had barely played because of Covid there is an argument that the performance in Prague will come under as much scrutiny as the result. 

“We want to come away with the three points, otherwise Europe is over for us I think,” acknowledged Lennon. “It is probably all or nothing and that's a great incentive for us.

“We have to have a positive response after that last game to have any chance of qualifying, we have to go there and win. We know we need to play a lot better than the home game. That night defensively we weren’t very good and if we win it gives us half a chance and keeps the group alive.

“A point isn’t any good and we don’t want to lose it, so we are going all out to win. We need to try and win both of the next two games and we know it won’t be easy but that’s the aim. We have to try and get a positive result but we need a positive performance as well. We had a great performance in Lille and we were hit by Covid and injuries for the Milan game. The Sparta game was so disappointing and it is something we want to rectify.

“The motivation of losing at home and being poor, we have to respond in the right way we can and that means going out and being disciplined, attacking and score if we can.”

Europe is only one of four tournaments that Lennon is contemplating over the next month. There is the surrealness of last season’s Scottish Cup final to be played against Hearts at Hampden while there are also League Cup and league games as Celtic look to sustain their stranglehold of the domestic terrain. Whether or not that grip has slipped will reveal itself largely over what happens between now and the end of the year.  

"The squad is going to be pushed but there's also going to be opportunities for the depth of the squad to be used,” said Lennon. 
“We are not going to be able to pick the same 11 or 14 for every game and the players be looking forward to that challenge as a coaching staff. Even though it's exciting, we have a bit of work to do but plenty of time to really find our form and consistency.

"The Sparta Prague game was a spanner in the works  before we split up, but we left in a good form and we know what's at stake at Sparta. It's game by game, that's one thing I have learnt since coming back.

“You can't look too far ahead, negotiate every game as it comes. It's a brilliant challenge. We could have 9 games in December, it's a huge month, it will be physically and mentally demanding for the players but I think they wouldn't have it any other way.” 

If Ryan Christie’s goal against Serbia wasn’t enough to secure his place in Scottish folklore, his interview in the immediate aftermath of the penalty shoot-out was. The emotion of the moment as Scotland qualified for their first major tournament for 22 years was captured in his TV interview with Lennon enjoying it as much as anyone.

And he accepted that the mood this week as players returned from international football was in stark contrast to the last break.
“Ryan’s interview was brilliant and it shows how much it means to him,” said the Celtic manager. “I am sure a lot of people watching could relate to it as it has been a long time. Football is the main sport here and it has given it more credibility.

“It is a great incentive for the boys to play well and something to look forward to. They have been the bridesmaid a long time and they have broken it now and it is great.

“There is a better atmosphere than after the last international break when we had problems with injuries and Covid. The majority of the boys who went away had success in one game or another. Psychologically that has put them in a good place and hopefully that will carry through for the next few months.

"There will be a huge motivation for him but ultimately my job is to manage Celtic and I want to have a huge motivation playing for us as well, which they have shown consistently over the years. They have got a look to forward to, from domestic football and the international team, which is great, they have earned it and now they have got to build on it.”