CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has distanced himself from his captain Scott Brown’s claim that the current team is one of the best in the club’s modern era, insisting they will have to prove themselves at Champions League level to merit that accolade.
As Celtic prepare for their attempt to set a new all-time club record for successive clean sheets in league matches when they entertain St Mirren tomorrow afternoon, Brown had hailed them as “one of the best Celtic teams in a long time”.
Lennon also takes great pride and satisfaction from their domestic form this season, which has made them unbeaten in the Scottish Premiership after 23 games, having racked up a club record-equalling ten consecutive league shut-outs previously achieved only twice, back in 1914 and 1922.
But Lennon is more circumspect than Brown in his assessment of a team he is still restructuring following the sales of key players Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper last summer.
This season, Celtic finished bottom of their Champions League group, a campaign which ended with a painful 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Barcelona in the Nou Camp, in contrast to their fine run to the last 16 of the tournament the previous year.
“I think the team right now are starting to roll a little bit,” said Lennon, when Brown’s observation was put to him. “But the litmus test is the Champions League.
“That’s where they will be judged. This was a transitional year but if the team can qualify again next season for the group stage, they willl feel more confident going into it. The players will be more settled and more accustomed to each other. I think they’ve got a bit to do yet before they get up there with the Wanyama and Hooper team. But certainly, they’re playing very well at the minute.”
Lennon will welcome back Anthony Stokes after suspension for tomorrow’s match, while Norwegian midfielder Stefan Johansen could make his first starting appearance following his signing two weeks ago.
Celtic would move a massive 21 points clear at the top of the Premiership with victory over struggling St Mirren, but Lennon is wary of every opposing team’s levels of motivation to become the first to beat his side in the league.
“We know there is an incentive for every team to try to be the one to break these records,” he said, “so we will be fully focused for St Mirren. All of our players want to be a part of the records we are setting. The unbeaten run and the clean sheets are a real credit to the whole team.”
Meanwhile, St Mirren boss Danny Lennon insists striker Steven Thompson should not be worried about the arrival of Josh Magennis.
The Aberdeen man joined Saints on a six-month loan deal on Thursday but Lennon thinks the duo can work well as a pair. And Lennon is confident the 23-year-old Northern Ireland international will take the burden of scoring from the shoulders of his new 35-year-old partner.
Magennis made just one start for the Dons this season but will go straight into the St Mirren squad as they face Scottish Premiership leaders Celtic at Parkhead on Sunday. Lennon said: “There is no doubt that Josh will help Stevie the longer we go into the season.
“We didn’t bring Josh in as a replacement for Stevie, we brought him in to work alongside him. Stevie is getting older but Josh will be able to do a bit more of the running and help Stevie save himself for when those balls come into the box.
“We have still got Stephane Bahoken, who is just a week away from fitness, as well as Gregg Wylde and Adam Campbell to give us a bit of pace, so our attacking options certainly excite me.”