Lennon still counting on Hooper

Neil Lennon will continue to utilise the services of Gary Hooper while the future of Celtic's top striker remains unresolved.

Last Updated: 22/07/13 at 17:14 Post Comment

The Englishman returns to the Parkhead squad for the second leg of their Champions League second qualifier against Cliftonville on Tuesday night after recovering from a groin strain.

Many Celtic fans, however, may have thought they had seen the last of the former Scunthorpe player.

QPR remain favourites to sign the 25-year-old after tabling a bid reported to have been increased to around the £5million mark but as yet no agreement has been reached with the Scottish champions.

Ahead of the visit of the Irish part-timers, who trail 3-0 from the first leg in Belfast last week, the Celtic boss was asked for an update on the Hooper situation.

He said: "I have no idea to tell you the truth. But for the time being he is still a Celtic player, he is fit now and a great addition to have for tomorrow night.

"You never say never (Hooper staying). If things aren't agreed or go through then he will be here for at least another year.

"I am hoping to speak to him this afternoon. I haven't had much of a chance to see him in the last week or so.

"I would like to (convince him to stay) but his mind may be elsewhere.

"This has been going on for the last few weeks but I will make it clear that he is welcome here and we want him to stay."

On the issue of possible transfers Lennon revealed there were no further developments with regards Nottingham Forest target Kelvin Wilson.

Celtic knocked back a reported £1.5million bid from the English side to take the Hoops defender back to his former club on Friday.

"I am not expecting him to go anywhere," said the Northern Irishman.

"He has two years on his contract. There was a bid from Forest on Friday and there is nothing more on that."

Meanwhile, Lennon is hoping common sense prevails with regards the question of whether on-loan striker Mo Bangura will play for Elfsborg against Celtic in the next Champions League qualifier, assuming both clubs get through to face each other.

After the draw was made last week the former Celtic skipper warned Bangura, who joined the Swedish club on loan in January, that he should sit out both ties.

However, Elfsborg chairman Bo Johansson was quoted in the Scottish Sun as saying: "He is our player and will play. Lennon's statement was very unfortunate. I don't understand what he is thinking. It's off the wall for Celtic to put pressure on a player that is not theirs."

Lennon was measured as he reiterated his thoughts on the situation.

"I think it is a very difficult situation for Mo," he said.

"We would prefer it if he didn't play and I am not going to change my stance on that.

"He is our player, despite what they are saying. We spent a significant amount of money on him.

"He wouldn't be there if it wasn't for our relationship with the club.

"We are doing them a favour as well as they are doing us a favour so I think in the aspect of common sense prevailing, I think the best scenario would be if he didn't play.

"We have loaned him out to get game experience but it is an impossible situation for the player.

"I will probably speak to the player but I am not going to try to put any more pressure on the player than he is already under."

Lennon will play a strong side against Cliftonville despite the tie effectively being over.

He said: "With Gary coming in to the squad we would like to give him some game time.

"Again, we will go as strong as possible.

"We are still very early, if you want to call it the middle of pre-season, we don't kick-off the league season until another 10 or 12 days so I want to get as much football into the senior boys as I can."


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