Glasgow – Celtic manager Neil Lennon slammed the part Brazilian superstar Neymar played in Scott Brown's sending off in his side's narrow 1-0 Champions League Group H defeat to Barcelona.
Despite Barca dominating possession the Hoops were holding the Catalan giants at bay until the 59th minute when Brown saw red for appearing to direct a kick at Neymar, who started in place of the injured Lionel Messi in Glasgow, as he lay on the deck following a trip by the Celtic captain.
However, Lennon labelled the decision as soft and hit out at Neymar for his reaction following the incident, which he said changed the shape of the game.
“I didn't think the initial tackle was a severe one. It's a physical game and I don't think Neymar does himself any favours by the way he behaves at times,” Lennon said.
“Neymar has a reputation in the game. Sometimes he exaggerates things a little bit.
“Having reviewed it I don't think there was very much in it.
“There's no question it's a foul but the reaction certainly wasn't merited. If the referee was going to book Scott for the initial foul then the tap, if that's what you want to call it, was it violent play? Was it dangerous play? I'm not so sure.
“If there was any contact it was minimal. I think there was a lot more going on in the game that merited heavier punishment
“There was a lot of heavy challenges going on out there in the game. It was a very intense level of Champions League football. But was it a sending off? Not in my view.
It was a game-changing decision.”
Lennon was bullish in his response after he was asked by the Spanish media if he would apologise to Neymar if it was proven Brown had kicked the Brazilian.
“Why should I apologise to him? Our supporters are very respectful of good players,” the Celtic boss said.
“Iniesta walked off tonight to a standing ovation from the Celtic support. Neymar, after the incident, gets booed every time he touches the ball, by our support.
“I'm not going to apologise to Neymar and I don't think I need to justify the defending of our captain when I think the sending off is uncalled for and unnecessary.”
It was only Celtic's second ever home defeat in the group stage of the Champions League, the first also having come at the hands of Barcelona in 2004.
Celtic's sense of injustice over the red card would scarcely have been diminished by Neymar's part in the winning goal.
It was the Brazilian's through ball that allowed substitute Alexis Sanchez, barely on the pitch for two minutes, to cross for former Arsenal favourite Cesc Fabregas to direct a 76th minute header back across keeper Fraser Forster and looping into the bottom corner.
What was even more galling for the home support was the fact the goal came moments after Victor Valdes had pulled off a wonderful save to deny James Forrest and Charlie Mulgrew had headed wide of an empty net.
“I thought our shape was good. I thought we limited Barcelona to very few chances up until the sending off and the Fabregas goal,” Lennon added.
“I thought we could have passed the ball a bit better in possession in the first half but for 20 or 25 minutes in the second half we were comfortable.
“And then we did go down to 10 men and we had two fantastic chances. The Valdes save from Forrest is amazing and then I think Charlie should score and then two minutes later we get punished.”
The result leaves Celtic pointless at the bottom of Group H. Next up is Ajax, who were held to a 1-1 draw in Amsterdam by AC Milan thanks to a stoppage time goal from Mario Balotelli.
“I was pleased with the result in Amsterdam as both teams have taken points off each other,” Lennon said.
“The double header with Ajax, if we are to have any aspirations of qualifying, is pivotal.
“It's important we win the next game at home and get points on the board and go to Amsterdam in a positive frame of mind.
“We have to maximise our opportunities which we haven't done in the two games so far.” – Sapa-AFP