ALBIAN AJETI will not face a two-match ban after the simulation charge brought against the Celtic striker was deemed ‘not proven’ upon appeal yesterday.
If the verdict from the SFA Tribunal isn’t quite an exoneration of the Swiss striker’s intent when going down under the challenge of Kilmarnock goalkeeper Colin Doyle last week, at least the outcome is what his manager Neil Lennon wanted. The forward will take his place in the attack against St Mirren this evening.
The troubling aspect of the whole episode for Lennon is the apparent scattergun approach to citations that seems to have been adopted. The Celtic manager is the first to admit he has been no stranger to the SFA’s disciplinary procedures in the past, but even he has been left scratching his head at the selective nature of how charges have been handed down this season.
At the very least he would like the chance to discuss the motivations behind Ajeti’s simulation rap. In the wider context, would he welcome the opportunity, along with his fellow managers, to have a meeting with the SFA to iron out the discrepancies in the disciplinary process as a whole?
“Yes, or an explanation,” Lennon said. “For me, this Ajeti one, I don’t understand why he has been charged, and no-one has contacted me. They have contacted the club and said, yeah, it looks like simulation.
“I’m so far removed from it. Usually I’d have a season ticket for the table, but with everything that’s going on this season even Ajeti [was]done by zoom. So you are not actually there, you are so distant you can’t really get a real finger on the pulse for it.
“This one in particular is a strange one for me. We are sort of re-refereeing games now which, in essence, is the right thing to do. If there’s been some sort of foul play that the referee has missed then, yes, I think they should be punished or looked at.
“But this one for me is clearly innocuous. There is contact, the two of them are running at speed, they come together and Albian goes down. You’ve seen that many, many times,
“I don’t think he’s trying to con the ref. I think he felt the contact and, like most strikers would do, he’s gone down.
“We don’t encourage diving, we don’t encourage simulation and this for me is unprecedented really because I was always of the opinion that, if there’s no contact then that’s simulation. But there clearly is contact there.
“So I don’t know where this charge has come from and I [couldn’t] predict the outcome of it either. I wouldn’t say I [was]confident of the outcome but in my own mind I am confident that there should have been no case to answer.”
Lennon insists that the last thing he wants to see is opposition players retrospectively charged and disciplined, but he is struggling to wrap his head around a system that would cite Ajeti for simulation while not taking further action against Motherwell’s Devante Cole, who was booked for a kick on Ismaila Soro in Celtic’s win over the Steelmen at the weekend.
“Ajeti’s compared to Cole’s is night and day,” he said. “Listen, the last thing I look for is for players to be sent off and I’m not convinced it was serious foul play either.
“But compared to what Ajeti’s done, why it’s not being looked at is beyond me, even though I can understand where Motherwell are coming from on that as well.”
Rightly or wrongly, there is a groundswell of opinion among Celtic – and indeed, Rangers – fans, that their players are being cited more often as they are the ones most often in the spotlight.
“That doesn’t make it right,” Lennon said. “Our game against Motherwell was pretty high profile and the collision with Cole and Soro did look a little bit dubious.
“So is there a case for it to be looked at? If it’s a yellow card then fine, let’s move on because I’ve seen worse this season.
“But I’m flummoxed by this one with Ajeti, I have to say and I don’t know if it’s come because of pressure from the public. I don’t know if it’s the Compliance Officer buckling under the complaints coming in or whatever.
“I certainly don’t think he has a case to answer but there you go.”
Meanwhile, Celtic captain Scott Brown seems set to keep his place in the midfield for the visit to Paisley tonight to take on St Mirren, even though Lennon admits he is having to delicately manage what is now the final stages of his captain’s career at the highest level.
“It’s [been difficult to leave him out]because of the influence he’s had and what he’s achieved in the game and how he’s received in the dressing room,” he said.
“He probably hasn’t been at his influential best this season. When we went into the lockdown last March he was playing brilliantly, looking really fit and producing really powerful performances. The lockdown had an adverse impact on him.
“Broony’s also one of those players who feeds off the energy of the crowd so having no fans in the ground hasn’t helped him either.
“It’s always difficult when you see a player with that temperament and personality start to come towards the end of his career: you have to deal with that as delicately as you possibly can.
“I brought him back for the Scottish Cup final in December because I thought it was the right thing to do with a player with his experience and quality and that proved to be the case.
“But I still think he has a lot to offer, although maybe not so much as he has done in previous seasons. That’s just the natural course of things, whether it’s football or any other walk of life.
“I thought he was excellent at Kilmarnock last midweek and he also played well for an hour against Motherwell at the weekend. He had a couple of games out through suspension and came back fresh and strong.”