Lennon: Cup win can be launchpad
Fri, 29 Mar 2013 17:58:00
Hibernian goalkeeper Ben Williams has told the club's fans that they have yet to see the best of him despite being voted their player of the year.
The 30-year-old beat off a strong challenge from striker Leigh Griffiths to pick up the award at the Supporters' Association annual dinner last Sunday.
Williams started out as a Manchester United trainee in 2002 before moving on to Crewe, Carlisle and Colchester, but he believes he has still to reach his peak.
He said: "I would say I am getting to the place I want to be as a goalkeeper. I would say that I am arriving into my peak, both fitness-wise and in terms of experience and mentality.
"In the last five seasons I have had three player-of-the-year awards. I got player of the year at Carlisle and in my first year at Colchester.
"So it is good recognition for me and testament to the amount of work I put in to try to get to a consistent level of goalkeeping.
"With goalkeeping, it is such a long learning curve, early on in your career you just don't perform consistently.
"You will have games where you are amazing and you will have games where you will make mistakes and you will probably dwell on the mistakes too long and are overly critical of yourself.
"But the next few years will be my peak time and if I can pick up more awards that would be fantastic.
"You are always judged by your mistakes and if you don't make many mistakes then people will have you down as a reliable goalkeeper so long may that continue."
The 2-0 World Cup qualifying defeat in Serbia in midweek left the Scots at bottom of Group A with two points from six games and confirmed their absence from the finals in Brazil in 2014.
Celtic manager Lennon today joined in the inquest into the state of Scottish football, after the latest failure to reach a major tournament.
Lennon, a former Northern Ireland international who played under Scotland manager Gordon Strachan at Parkhead, questioned both the desire of modern players and the validity of football academies.
His condemnatory comments were all the more interesting given that the Scottish Football Association, under the guidance of Dutch performance director Mark Wotte, has embarked on a long-term project involving centres of excellence while the Celtic academy is widely recognised as one of the best in Scotland.
"In terms of the national team, some of the players need to leave their egos at the door and sacrifice a little bit more for their country," Lennon said.
"I am not just talking about the hunger at young level, I am talking about the hunger at senior level.
"I think players are comfortable at their clubs and it looks to me like it becomes a bit of a chore rather than a privilege to play for their countries.
"You look at countries like Montenegro and Uruguay, who are smaller, but they have a real hunger and love for playing for their countries.
"Now I am not here to question any player but it just seems to me that there have been sagas over the years when I have been here, of ill-discipline and players walking out of squads and refusing to play for Scotland again.
"That, to me, is a worry.
"You can't be (optimistic) at present, that's the realism of it, although I think they (Scotland) have the right man in charge.
"I think we need to look deeper than the national team. Are we producing players? If not, why not? Because I do believe the talent is there.
"We are more affluent than we were 20 or 30 years ago. I question the hunger, when I look at other players who play for their countries."
Former Celtic skipper Lennon, who started his career at Manchester City, expanded his thoughts on the way youth players are produced both north and south of the border.
"Whether it be a UEFA initiative or clubs decided to bring in the academy system, I am not convinced as a whole that it is the right way to take the game forward," Lennon said.
"Our academy system is thriving but I am talking about Britain as a whole, England as well as Scotland.
"We have had this whole debate for the last three or four days because none of the Home Nations won during the week and we seem to have it time and again when results don't go the way we want.
"Maybe it's time we had a look at that to see if the template needs changing.
"Do we need to look at the coaching, are the kids getting coached in the right way?
"The demise of boys clubs has that had any effect on preventing boys coming through as well, because 20 or 30 years ago Scotland were producing a seam of top-quality players and that has lessened.
"I look at when I was coming through the ranks, it was a different system but it seemed to work.
"I was at Man City and I was cleaning boots and cleaning toilets, it was part of our remit during the day.
"I don't see that as much now. Maybe we should bring that level of discipline back and they may appreciate the game a little bit more when they come through."
In tribute to St Mirren's Scottish League Cup final win over Hearts at Hampden almost a fortnight ago, Celtic will form a guard of honour for the Saints players before Sunday's Scottish Premier League clash in Paisley.
Lennon said: "It is out of respect. I have had it done to myself over the years and it is a nice thing to do.
"They will be quite buoyant after the League Cup win, they will have a vociferous support behind them as well.
"But we have our own targets. We had a great comeback against Aberdeen in our last game, we have started to show what we are capable of and I want to see that from the start on Sunday."
The Shrimpers shook Bradford with two goals in two minutes early in the game. Gavin Tomlin put them in front after ten minutes, tapping the ball into the empty net after Bilel Mohsni's shot rebounded off the post into his path and Britt Assombalonga added a second a minute later, converting a right-wing cross from Sean Clohessy.
Bradford almost pulled a goal back three minutes after that double blow, when Kyel Reid's free kick rebounded off the crossbar to Hanson, but his header was cleared off the line by Luke Prosser.
Winger Zavon Hines began Bradford's comeback in the 53rd minute when he fired home a cross from left-back James Meredith and Hanson scored the equaliser with a far-post header from substitute Nahki Wells' cross six minutes from the end.
Lennon and the squad on Friday sat through an emotional viewing of the club's new cup final DVD, which chronicles their Hampden triumph against Hearts and the celebrations.
An estimated 15,000 people packed Paisley town centre to welcome the team back with the cup and Lennon hopes some of them help fill St Mirren Park for the visit of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League leaders.
And Lennon is determined to keep them coming back.
"We were just up at the launch of the DVD and we watched it together, the full group," said Lennon.
"It was very emotional to see everyone and their love and affiliation of this football club - from the supporters, directors, to the players and families and friends.
"The supporters are the most important people at this club and if we manage to get that extra few through the gate on the back of this cup success, we'll be doing our damnedest to make sure we keep them here and we are only going to do that by giving them entertainment."
Lennon added: "We can't rest on our laurels. What we have to do is make that cup success a platform and continue our journey.
"We have eight very important league games to go. We are more points better off than this time last year but we are lower in the league. They are two very important aims for us."
Lennon admitted his players have had to gradually regain their focus after their Hampden high and the days of celebrations.
"They have been in a bubble and obviously the challenge for us from winning the cup and all the euphoria that goes with that, we are looking to bring them back down," the former Cowdenbeath boss said.
"It takes a lot out of you emotionally, re-living it.
"They were a wee bit rusty at the beginning of the week but as the week progressed they have got back to the levels where we left off.
"It's always a challenge against Celtic and you always have to be at your best.
"They are having a fantastic season but they are conceding goals and if we manage to bring our best we can possibly capitalise on that.
"We will show them the respect a top club like Celtic deserve but not too much respect."