Convincing Celtic board to back him in review and putting "doubts" in Rangers' minds must be Neil Lennon's derby targets
The past month has witnessed Neil Lennon put considerable distance between himself and the pitiful period that looked as if it would cost him his post of Celtic manager.
The 49-year-old isn’t naive, though. He is well aware that he needs victory over Rangers to prevent his status among a still-ambivalent Celtic support being dragged back to a dark place.
When in the grip of the ghastly sequence across the closing months of 2020 that left Celtic with only two wins from 12 games, Lennon was given full backing from a board of directors that said his position would be reviewed in January. Even after six straight successes that banked a Scottish Cup, and with it a world-first quadruple treble, Lennon knows his job prospect requires his Celtic team to show they are capable of chasing down Rangers in the pursuit of his fanbase’s obsessed-over tilt for a record 10-in-a-row.
Asked what he felt he required from a derby Celtic enter 16 points adrift of an Ibrox team that have played three more Premiership games ahead of his paymsters’ forthcoming appraisal, he said: “I think we’ve got to put a performance in. We’ve got to be physical, we’ve got to be psychologically strong.
‘I don’t know what it is in the last couple of games, whether it’s just the weight of expectation that isn’t there anymore. Maybe we got a bit of lift from winning the cup, the quadruple treble. All that is gone now and we can just concentrate now on playing freely, but playing strongly. That is something we haven’t done in the last few months.
“[These games] are always important but, with the position we find ourselves in, it’s important we don’t lose. We’re playing well, we’ve found a bit of form and consistency at the right time, so it’s important we take that into the game against a team that has started the season absolutely brilliantly. But it’s not beyond us at all. I think we go into the game in a positive frame of mind and take the game to Rangers as much as we possibly can.
“Psychologically it would give us a huge lift [to win] so that’s all in our thinking going into it. But while we are positive we’re not saying we have turned a massive corner. If we could get a result at Ibrox then you could say we are on the right track again. But, while there were aspects of our last game against Dundee United [that brought a 3-0 win on Wednesday] which pleased me but there were some other aspects that didn’t please me. But we’re scoring goals and creating a lot of good chances and starting to look far more like ourselves.
"We’ve got to give them [Rangers] doubts. We have to keep performing now and keep being consistent. We need to put pressure on. It’s a change for us to play catch-up and we’ve lot a lot of work to do. Like I say it’s not beyond us, we are not giving up on anything. You have to go into the game and get the mindset right from the start.”
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