NEIL LENNON will rack up his 54th European game in charge of Celtic against Ferencvaros at Parkhead this evening.

The Irishman will overtake his former mentor Martin O’Neill as he faces the Hungarians in the second qualifying round of the Champions League where it is a case of winner takes all.

With another eight ties as gaffer at Hibs, only the great Jock Stein, Dundee United’s Jim McLean and Rangers’ Walter Smith will have managed more games in Europe with Scottish clubs.

However, the landmark moment is not on the Hoops gaffer’s mind as he prepares for the latest knock-out encounter after last week’s triumph over KR Reykjavik.

Lennon, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “It’s been wonderful and I’m looking forward to, hopefully, more games this year.

“We’ve had some great highs with a few sore ones along the way too, but it’s a great challenge as a coach to try to get the best out of the players when you come up against some of the best coaches, players and teams.

“Hopefully, I have many more ahead of me, but this is one of the most important one because it’s the next one.

“Going past Martin is nice because I generally don’t beat him at anything, really. So, it’s a nice milestone to have talked about.

“Being alongside him in any capacity, really, is great. But that’s not at the forefront of my mind going into this game. Hopefully, I can celebrate it afterwards with a proper result.”

Lennon has prepared thoroughly for the occasion and admitted: “It’s a game we’ve given a lot of preparation time to.

“We know Ferencvaros are a very good side having negotiated their last tie very comfortably.

“This is a step up for us in comparison to Reykjavik and it’s fair comment to say they’re a stronger team than we’d hope to get at this stage.

“When you think at this stage last season, we played Nomme Kalju of Estonia and we negotiated that one with no problem.

“Ferencvaros were in the Europa League last year and they were undefeated away from home against Espanyol, Moscow and Ludogorets in their group.

“This is tough, but it’s a game we’re looking forward to. The players have adapted pretty well to everything we’ve asked of them so far.

“This is a game in which the crowd would have been really important to us, so we need to generate our own motivation, intensity and tempo to have that aggression in our play from the off.”

Reflecting on last season’s disappointing 4-3 to the Romanians of Cluj, Lennon added: “I thought we were so passive and actually played into their hands. We ended up a goal down and 45 minutes had gone past us.

“We had to generate a head of steam up for the second-half and we actually scored three goals. What we can’t legislate for is that kind of passive start to the game.

“Patience might be key. Ferencvaros are very good on counter-attack and, while we’ll try and impose our style on them if we can, we have to be mindful of not leaving ourselves too vulnerable on the counter.

“I was pleased with the intensity we played with against Dundee United. I didn’t think the game last Tuesday needed to be as aggressive, but this one is different.

“I think emotionally, physically and mentally these are very challenging times for the players. You feel distant from everyone when there is no one inside the stadium. That’s been a big adaptation for the players and a big miss.

“We try and keep it the same as possible, but you don’t hear the noise and you hear the atmosphere, the hustle and bustle you’d normally have.

“So, it is a little quieter and you have to go through the proper protocols. We’re riding in two different buses with staff and players. Getting a temperature checked, you have your own little UEFA passport to show you are negative.

“You are going into a pre-match warm up with an empty stadium when normally it is building up atmosphere before the game, so they are all very different from what we are used to.

“People say it is going to be the new normal for however long it is going to be, but it’s not normal what we are going through.

“It’s easy for people to say you should be able to handle it better, but you just don’t know. You don’t know how individuals are going to react to the lack of atmosphere or support. It’s not what they have been used to.

“From a coach’s point of view, you do miss the support, the roar and, as a player, it can mean so much, especially when you are in big games.

“Even though there will be no support, we need to start the game well and make sure we get a good foothold.”

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v Ferencvaros this evening – only in your champion CQN.

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