Celtic ready to be pragmatic under Neil Lennon in search of Champions League football, says Leigh Griffiths

CELTIC gave a scintillating display of their firepower against St Johnstone on Saturday, but Leigh Griffiths says that Neil Lennon’s team are capable of doing the dirty work that may be required to reach the Champions League group stage.

Celtic travel to Romania tomorrow for Wednesday night’s third-round qualifying tie first leg against CFR Cluj, and Griffiths knows that it will be a significant step up from the last round against Estonian champions Nomme Kalju.

He is heartened though by Celtic’s past European record under his manager, and he says that Lennon will have his men prepared to be pragmatic if that’s what it takes to take another step towards Champions League football.

“The gaffer likes to play attacking football,” Griffiths said. “Anyone watching the St Johnstone game will see that. He always likes to be on the front foot and he wants to make this place a fortress.

“Teams were coming here last season and putting 11 men behind the ball, and they were scraping points here and there.

“But this year, we will be even more on the front foot. Our front players are unbelievable, and we will get better moving forward.

“[But] the manager can be pragmatic when he needs to be. For all the negativity that he had last season, people forget he took this club to the last 16 of the Champions League.

“You see the way he can set up in Europe and frustrate teams and make us hard to beat. He’s given the fans a lot of memorable European nights.

“We will need to do the dirty stuff against Cluj over there. That’s the mark of a European tie away from home. We need to go there, be compact and solid, and look to break on them in the counter attack.

“We have the quality and speed to cause Cluj problems if we do that.

“We also need to be clinical against Cluj. We weren’t in Athens last year.

“I was guilty of missing a chance over there that I’d normally tuck away.”

Griffiths still bristles when referencing the experience of crashing out at this stage of the competition last season against AEK Athens, and he is determined to vanquish the memories of that desperately disappointing night in the Greek capital.

“We never made it to the groups last year, but we have a chance to put that right this season,” he said.

“When you think of the teams we have beaten at that third round over the years, AEK weren’t the strongest. That’s gone now and we want to go and put it right. It’s about what we do but we are taking nothing for granted.

“We will respect Cluj because they are a decent side. We need to put in a strong performance and if we get a decent result, Celtic Park will be packed the week after for the return.”

Meanwhile, Griffiths says that the hunger the Celtic players showed in their relentless pursuit of goals on Saturday shows they are in the right frame of mind to defend their Premiership title.

“Last season was a bit disruptive with Brendan leaving and the gaffer coming in – but we still won games,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s 7-0 or 1-0 with a 90th-minute goal. Those games make you champions.

“We got the late wins a few times last season and that’s the mark of this team.

“We always go right to the very end and you even saw that on Saturday, when we wanted more than seven.

“We know we won’t win 7-0 every week but if we perform to that level, we should win more than we lose.”

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