CHARLIE Mulgrew has defended the right of Celtic supporters to criticise Neil Lennon but has dismissed the possibility of it provoking the resignation of his manager.
Lennon was involved in a verbal altercation with fans during Celtic’s 1-0 home defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Saturday, which compounded the club’s poorest start to a league campaign since 1998.
Immediately after the match, Lennon declared he would be prepared to quit if he felt Celtic supporters did not feel he was the right man for the job. But defender Mulgrew, while accepting Celtic’s display on Saturday was sub-standard, is confident emotions will have quickly cooled among all parties.
“In the heat of the moment, when the game is not going our way, the fans have a right to have an opinion,” said Mulgrew. “The way it was going on Saturday, we didn’t take our chances and it wasn’t good enough from us.
“They are entitled to their opinion and it got a wee bit heated with the manager. These things happen. We are all in it together with the fans, so I’m sure it will be fine.
“It just shows how desperate the fans and the manager are for the team to do well. It’s a good thing. I’ve not heard him saying that he is thinking about quitting and I’m sure he won’t be thinking along those lines.
“It shows the passion of the fans, the manager and everybody involved at the club. We were all in it together when we beat Barcelona a few weeks ago. The fans have been great for us this season.”
Despite suffering their third defeat of the campaign, Celtic remain one point clear at the top of the SPL with a game in hand. Aberdeen could leapfrog them at the summit if they beat Inverness at Pittodrie tonight, 24 hours before Celtic face a traditionally testing fixture against Hearts at Tynecastle.
Mulgrew, speaking as he helped promote ESPN’s live coverage of the showdown in Gorgie, insists the Celtic players all believe they face a genuine challenge for their title this season even in the absence of Rangers.
“Of course there is a title race,” added the 26-year-old. “People outside of us are saying we will definitely go on to win it. No-one in our dressing room is saying that. We know it’s going to be difficult. We know every team wants to win against us. It’s like their cup final.
“Aberdeen and Hibs are going well, so it’s going to be difficult for us. It’s not going to be as easy as people are saying. The last thing we are going to do is get sucked in to thinking it will be easy. We won’t get into that mindset.
“It’s still early days in the league campaign. Maybe the other teams are not getting the credit they deserve. It might be because we have beaten Barcelona that other teams in Scotland want to beat us even more now, I’m not sure. But every game you play for Celtic is difficult. There is always pressure there and you have to overcome it.
“I don’t think it’s the case that there is less intensity in the league because Rangers are not in it. Whether Rangers are there or not, we still need to focus on what we are doing and need to win the games.”
Tomorrow night will be Mulgrew’s 26th match of the season already for club and country, a tally increased by Celtic’s European involvement. But he does not see their Champions League efforts as a mitigating factor in their inconsistent domestic form.
“There have been a lot of games, but as a player you want to be involved in as many as you can at the highest level possible,” he said. “There is no complaining about playing too many games when you are involved in the Champions League. We have got a big enough squad to do it and we are enjoying it.
“Of course it is high intensity in the Champions League. Against Barcelona, a lot went into the defensive side of it and it was very demanding both physically and mentally. But it’s where we want to be and we’re not complaining.
“You wouldn’t sacrifice the Champions League for anything else. A few things haven’t gone our way after the Champions League games, but I’m sure we can turn it around.
“It might be a factor in the poor results we’ve had immediately after some Champions League games, but I’m not using it as an excuse. On Saturday, we just didn’t take our chances. That’s how simple it was. If we had taken them, it might have been a comfortable day for us.
“It makes the game at Hearts even more important for us now. It’s always a hard game there, always a great atmosphere and we are looking forward to it. Hearts will be pumped up for it and we will be as well.
“Of course you feel sorry for the Hearts players at the moment with the problems off the field. It’s not a nice thing to happen to anyone. I’m sure it will make them even more motivated to get a result. What is happening to them puts things into perspective. Their players have done well to play through the situation and I’m sure they will continue to do that.”