Why Neil Lennon is refusing to get carried away by Celtic form ahead of 'big challenge' at Rangers

Celtic manager Neil Lennon sought to keep a lid on expectancy over his team’s renaissance going into their potentially decisive derby on Saturday in the aftermath of their 3-0 dismantling of Dundee United.

Neil Lennon appears mindful of the 16-point gap between his Celtic team and Rangers ahead of Saturday's derby despite renewed confidence provided by recent form. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Neil Lennon appears mindful of the 16-point gap between his Celtic team and Rangers ahead of Saturday's derby despite renewed confidence provided by recent form. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

Despite the victory being a sixth straight success following a ruinous run of two wins in 12, Lennon is respectful of the dangers posed by a Rangers side that have won 19 and drawn two of their 21 Premiership encounters to establish a 16-point lead lead.

As the Irishman confirmed he will start keeper Vasilis Barkas against Rangers because of the 26-year-old Greek international’s experience, and that he hasn’t ruled out Christopher Jullien despite the Frenchman being forced off with a knee problem sustained when he clattered it against the post, he preached caution.

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

“Our confidence is good but we’re not getting carried away,” Lennon said. “It’s a tough game for us, Rangers are in great form and they have been all season. It’s a great challenge for us but we’re starting to find good consistency as well and I want to take that into the game on Saturday and get a good result.”

Barkas, rather than 22-year-old keeper Conor Hazard, can be key to that outcome, believes Lennon, who restored the £4.5million summer signing following a month out.

“We’ve got big games coming up and I want Vasilis to play,” the Celtic manager said. “He’s come in as number one I think Conor’s done very well but he’s still very fledgling in his career. It would be a big call to put him into a game of this magnitude. So, I want to go back to experience. Vasilis hasn’t shown us what he’s all about but he’s capable of doing that. So I thought it was important to give him a game before.”

Meanwhile, Jullien failing to recover to play in the derby would be “a big blow” conceded Lennon. “We’ll have to assess him over the next couple of days,” he said. “But again we’ve got [Nir] Bitton, we’ve got [Shane] Duffy. We’re okay in terms of cover but Christopher’s a big game player and we’d like him fit if possible. He’s impacted the knee on the post, it’s quite a heavy one. There’s a bit of swelling there, but just now I’m not ruling him out or in.”

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