Neil Lennon praises hat-trick hero Mohamed Elyounoussi as Celtic beat Motherwell
Neil Lennon hailed forward Mohamed Elyounoussi after the Celtic attacker defied the critics to score a hat-trick in Sunday’s 4-1 Premiership win over Motherwell at Fir Park.
The Parkhead boss had found himself under pressure and his players heavily criticised after a painful 4-1 Europa League defeat by Sparta Prague at home on Thursday night.
On a night the Scottish champions slumped to the bottom of Group H with one point from nine, the Norway international – on loan from Southampton – was spotted on his phone after being substituted, explaining later he was looking at the other group game result between AC Milan and Lille.
Elyounoussi was on top form in Lanarkshire as he put Celtic in control with a first-half double.
Well defender Declan Gallagher reduced the deficit in the 72nd minute but Elyounoussi sealed his hat-trick three minutes later to take his Hoops tally to 11 for the season before late second-half substitute Olivier Ntcham added a fourth.
Lennon said: “I had a brief chat with Elyounoussi. He explained to me what had happened and that was the end of it.
“He is a top professional. I have no problem with his attitude or the way he behaves around the place. It was never an issue for me.
“You are all analysing everything we are doing at the minute. Elyounoussi on his phone and the body language and this, that and the other.
“I got what I wanted today. Elyounoussi scored a hat-trick today after being criticised unreasonably for looking at a result on his phone the other night.
“I think that’s unfair but he has responded in the right way. We asked him at half-time to go and get the hat-trick he didn’t get in Lille and it was a brilliant third goal.
“Our reaction to conceding was excellent and I thought we should have won the game by more.”
Lennon admitted there were a “few choice words on Thursday, not going crazy”.
He said: “We analysed what we did wrong and the response was great.
“Body language, work-rate, quality of play – it was all there. There is a lot to be positive about it.
“We didn’t panic. We don’t get too low and we don’t get too high.
“We have a lot of work to do and a long way to go in the season but to come away and score four is a good sign. That’s a good barometer for us.”
Lennon revealed that defender Kristoffer Ajer had suffered a recurrence of a groin strain and defender Jeremie Frimpong was struggling with a knock received in a tackle by Devante Cole, for which the Well striker was booked.
The Northern Irishman said: “I don’t know if it is ligament damage yet. It’s sort of thigh, lateral side, we will have to get him looked at over the next couple of days.”
Motherwell boss Stephen Robinson insisted his side’s profligacy cost them dearly.
He said: “I don’t think the result reflected the performance.
“The scoreline suggest we got absolutely battered, I don’t think that is the case at all.
“For large periods we were in control, with or without the ball.
“We had numerous opportunities, probably the most we have had against Celtic and we didn’t take them and if you don’t take them you get punished by the quality they have.”