Celtic: Neil Lennon challenges players to earn a cup final start

Michael Higdon celebrates his penalty for Motherwell

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has warned his players that they must improve to make the starting 11 for the Scottish Cup final against Hibernian on 26 May.

Lennon was unhappy with Celtic's second half display in the loss to Motherwell.

"Some players were aware there was cup final places up for grabs but I'm not too sure they took their opportunity today," he told BBC Radio Scotland.

"A few of them looked like they'd switched off in the second half, which is unacceptable from my point of view."

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Interview: Celtic manager Neil Lennon

The Hoops boss made six changes to the team that sealed the Scottish Premier League title against Inverness CT last week.

But all seemed to be going to plan when Gary Hooper's 29th goal of the season gave Celtic a 40th-minute lead.

However, after Henrik Ojamaa equalised for Motherwell, the Fir Park side went on to win through Michael Higdon's penalty and Fraser Forster's own goal.

"It's just not like us," Lennon said.

"I don't know where it came from because I thought we totally dominated the first half.

"For some reason we just didn't come out of the traps second-half. I thought going forward we were really good but defensively we were really poor.

"But it's not about today or even next week, it's about the cup final and the close season and getting the right rest now. I wanted the team to be competitive."

Joe Ledley, Kris Commons, Kelvin Wilson and Efe Ambrose were given time off.

"Four [players] were away this week and five will be away from tomorrow," said Lennon, who dismissed reports that Celtic are interested in signing Motherwell's James McFadden as "speculation".

"It's just the way it is. We start back in the third week of June and start playing second week of July, so it's a very heavy schedule for players and we need to try and get the preparations right.

"We will have everyone back for two weeks of preparation for the cup final. You bite the bullet for a couple of games.

Lennon felt the game turned when referee Euan Norris awarded Motherwell a penalty after Charlie Mulgrew clipped Ojamaa soon after the interval.

That was followed by a bad headed clearance from Mikael Lustig which came off his own post before hitting Forster and rolling over the goal-line.

"We were in total control and could have been two up, then a really poor decision has cost us a goal," added Lennon.

"It's debatable whether it was a penalty or not; Charlie [Mulgrew] hasn't seen him coming. That's another harsh decision, I think, that's gone against us. It's changed the course of the game.

"The third goal is totally bizarre from Mikael [Lustig]."

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