Celtic manager Neil Lennon plays down Nikica Jelavic factor

Lennon is delighted to have strengthened his squad during January
Lennon is delighted to have strengthened his squad during January

Celtic manager Neil Lennon says the loss of Nikica Jelavic will weaken Rangers but does not think it will end the reigning champions' challenge.

Rangers, one point behind Celtic in the Scottish Premier League, on transfer deadline day.

"It will certainly weaken Rangers' squad because he was a superb player for the time he was here," said Lennon.

"Whether it weakens Rangers remains to be seen. It might galvanise them."

Rangers are facing an uncertain financial future as they challenge a £49m tax bill in the courts in the hope of heading off potential administration.

But Lennon does not believe Celtic, or the Scottish Premier League, need a close rivalry with their city rivals in order to thrive.

"I'm not in the camp who believe the SPL, or Celtic, need a strong Rangers," he said. "I'd be quite happy if we were a lot stronger than Rangers.

"A lot of people think Celtic and Rangers need each other. Well, at the minute, we don't.

"We're in a strong position financially with good young players coming through, but we've had to work hard and be patient for that.

"We are talking hypothetically as we don't know what the outcome [of the court case] is going to be.

"But the people who suffer the most, as always, are the supporters and I have a lot of sympathy for the Rangers fans."

Lennon was pleased with Celtic's business during the January transfer window, during which they captured Poland striker Pawel Brozek, Nigerian midfielder Rabiu Ibrahim and Sweden right-back Mikael Lustig.

"We've got a couple of players in and thankfully we were able to keep all the players that were being speculated about," said Lennon, who thinks his squad was good enough to win the title even before it was strengthened.

Lennon confirmed that he failed to tempt striker Leon Best from Newcastle United.

"We did try to get Leon in and a deal was agreed between us and Newcastle," he said.

"But Leon thought that, with a young family, it would have been disruptive for him to come up here."

Efrain Juarez and Morten Rasmussen have returned from their loan spells at Real Zaragoza and Sivasspor respectively, and Lennon says they will cover for long-term injury victims Beram Kayal and Mohammed Bangura.

"It was good to see Efy," said Lennon. "He looks quite bright and, with Kayal being out for the rest of the season, he slots in there.

"We have lost Bangura for the rest of the season and Rasmussen is an option there."

"[Bangura's knee] surgery was a success, but he will be out for 12 to 16 weeks.

"It is unfortunate for him and possibly the reason he hasn't recaptured his form; maybe it was hampering him a little bit."