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Neil Lennon: Celtic boss says players must be protected from racism

Celtic manager Neil Lennon expects an open game against Lazio
Europa League: Celtic v Lazio
Venue: Celtic Park Date: Thursday 24 October Time: 20:00 BST
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland 810MW/DAB/online and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport Scotland website & app.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon hopes Thursday’s meeting with Lazio will be “a celebration of football”, saying a small minority of racists cannot be allowed to “stain the game”.

Next month’s Europa League return trip will be subject to a partial stadium closure after the Rome club were charged with racist behaviour by Uefa.

Lennon has already said he would support players walking off, if abused.

“I have a duty of care to my players and I want them protected,” he said.

“They’re here to play football, it doesn’t matter what the colour of their skin is or what their background is. I’m hoping tomorrow is a celebration of football between two great clubs.

“In the main, I think Lazio have a great support. There are always a minority who want to overshadow the game, make noise for the wrong reasons or put a stain on the game.

“I’m hoping at the end of the game we’re talking about the great atmosphere and two great sides playing in a great game of football.”

Celtic midfielder Ryan Christie added that he would not hesitate to walk off the pitch if he witnessed racial abuse during the game.

“Obviously, first thing’s first, if racial abuse becomes a part of this game then it’s up to Uefa and the referees to make a decision,” said the 24-year-old.

“I’d obviously have no qualms about walking off the park. I think in this day and age it’s probably going to need strong stances like that to really put a message across and try and stop it.”

‘It’s almost a Champions League game’

Celtic top Group G after a draw at Rennes and a win against Cluj in Glasgow and Lennon is excited by the club’s first meeting with Lazio.

The Scottish Premiership leaders top the group after the first two games, but the manager acknowledges how quickly their position could change.

“It’s almost like a Champions League game really, with the size of the two clubs and the prestige the game holds,” he said.

“A win would put us in a very strong position. But we’re going to have to play as well, if not better, than we have done in the previous two games – and I think the players are capable of doing that.

“Lazio have the leading scorer in Serie A, Ciro Immobile, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is one of the best midfielders in Europe, so they are packed, going forward, with lots of quality.

“We’re not rookies. We have players with international experience. We are at home and we won’t allow Lazio to settle in and dictate the tempo. We want to play with our energy and get the crowd behind us.”

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