DISMAYED by what he perceives to be lack of credit, Neil Lennon yesterday made a point of praising his players after a 1-0 win at Inverness Caledonian Thistle ensured Celtic maintained their 11 point lead at the top of the Premiership.
The win, courtesy of Kris Commons’ third minute goal, also ensures that Celtic reach the end of the year unbeaten in the league in the current campaign. It hasn’t always been as straightforward as the statistics might suggest, with yesterday’s hard-fought victory at the Caledonian stadium being a case in point.
Lennon complained that people expect Celtic “to turn up and roll teams over”. He pointed out that “it is never as easy as that”.
While the goals have dried up of late – this was the side’s third 1-0 victory in their last four league outings – the fact Celtic are not conceding at present means that they require only to score once to take all three points. This was the story again yesterday as the visitors clocked up a sixth domestic clean sheet in succession.
The tight scorelines since successive seven and five-goal victories over Hearts and Motherwell earlier this month are perhaps one reason why the Celtic players are not receiving the credit Lennon believes they deserve. “I am pretty sure there will be a flood of goals coming soon,” he said.
On top of everything else, Commons’ goal yesterday means that for the first time since 2002 Celtic have scored in every league match in a calendar year.
“That’s quite an achievement,” Lennon said, with reference to the last statistic. “It shows that we do try to go out and be forward thinking and score goals. It’s been a really good two years for the club. We’ve sold £20 million worth of players and that’s a big deal for the club. To replace these players you need to spend £20 million and we are not in a position to do that. But we are unbeaten and I think the players deserve a lot of plaudits for that. At times I don’t think we get the credit we deserve. I think people just expect us to turn up and roll teams over, but it’s never as easy as that,” he added.
Lennon went out of way to praise his players after the victory over Inverness. Match winner Commons, whose goal yesterday was his 15th of the season, was described by the manager as being “at the peak of his career”. Lennon added: “Commons has been huge for us this year as he was last year.”
However, he placed special emphasis on the defence, who have not conceded a goal in domestic football since a 3-1 win over Aberdeen last month. “The introduction of Virgil [van Dijk] this season has certainly made us better defensively,” Lennon said.
“We have two or three excellent full-backs – three and a half if you consider young [Darnell] Fisher playing very well. Look at Mikael Lustig, Adam Matthews, Emilio Izaguirre – they have been pictures of consistency this season. They have given us a real foundation defensively this year. We are building, it’s a new team and we want to get an injection of freshness into the squad in January because it is a bit thin.”
He played down one report linking Celtic with former Dundee United left back Paul Dixon, now at Huddersfield Town. But he promised movement in the transfer widow – and not necessarily through the exit door.
“We are hoping to start getting into it over the next week or so,” he said. “We have made slight inroads,” he added. “But we are nowhere near anything concrete yet. We are working very, very hard as we always do and I’m hoping to come out this January stronger.”
Elsewhere in the Premiership, Motherwell consolidated second place with an emphatic 5-1 victory over Partick Thistle, Hibs beat Kilmarnock 3-0 to give manager Terry Butcher his first win at Easter Road since joining the club, and Nicky Low’s second minute free-kick at Pittodrie proved decisive as Aberdeen took all three points from second-bottom Ross County.