Flying almost 4,000 miles to the Middle East for a sunshine break should really have helped Neil Lennon to escape from the west of Scotland and all of the fall-out from Celtic’s defeat by Rangers.
No sooner had he settled into his plush digs in downtown Dubai last week, though, than the Parkhead manager found himself crossing paths once again with his Ibrox counterpart Steven Gerrard.
The two men are long-standing acquaintances, as well as now being near neighbours in the West End of Glasgow, and there is a healthy mutual respect between them.
Lennon, however, found himself unable to engage with his fellow hotel guest due to his emotions still being so raw in the wake of a painful loss which has well and truly blown the title race wide open.
“I saw him, but I didn’t get the chance to speak to him,” he said after a training session at Celtic’s winter camp in the United Arab Emirates yesterday. “It was too soon after all the excitement.”
Lennon – whose Premiership leaders are now just two points ahead of their nearest challengers, who have a game in hand at home against St Johnstone to play – has sensed the Celtic players are also smarting in recent days.
But he doesn’t feel that will necessarily be a negative for a team who will be bidding to win a record-equalling ninth consecutive Premiership trophy and possibly even a fourth straight domestic treble in the second half of the 2019/20 campaign. “You have got to bounce back, you have got to show the character, you have got have a reaction, you have got to hurt,” he said.
“I think there is hurt there. But I think sometimes it can do you good, can be a good thing. That is what I have seen this week.
“There has been an intensity about the work in the last three or four days. I have sensed a bit of an edge about them this week, there is no doubt about that.”
Lennon and his Celtic coaching team have looked back over the Rangers game, determined what went wrong and worked on aspects of their play which they feel need to be improved with their players in Dubai. He doesn’t anticipate any difficulty putting the reverse behind them.
“We need to analyse the Rangers game,” he said. “It would be remiss not to. We can’t just say it was a blip and one of those days. We have to analyse it because we weren’t great in the Betfred Cup final either. There is definitely room for improvement there. Maybe we will need to change the way we play to accommodate the opposition.
“But we had a run of 12 wins in a row on the back of the previous defeat, before losing that big one. We took time to refocus and regroup and get fresh again. So we’ll see what the second half of the season brings.
“They [Rangers] have improved a lot, we have improved. So it’s nip and tuck at the minute. We are hoping we can find our consistency again as soon as we get straight back into it and take it from there.”
Lennon, who is in his second spell in the dugout at Parkhead and his fourth managerial job, confessed that he used to allow himself to get sucked into the off-field spats which invariably followed encounters between Celtic and Rangers when he was a younger man. Yet, the 48-year-old is older and wiser now and doesn’t get involved any longer.
“I used to try and do everything,” he said. “I now take a step back from it all. I just have to concentrate on the football and there is still a lot of work to do. I think you have to have a clear head.”
Lennon added: “I look at the performance and the team selection and think about all the things I got right or wrong. I can only look to improve on that.
“As for all the other outside noise? As I’ve said all along, I can’t take any notice of that, really. It’s not my jurisdiction. I can do that because I have a good support team around me. So it’s not real for me, the rest of it.”