Neil Lennon says talk of Celtic potentially being afflicted by some form of Hampden hoodoo that has beset him during his managerial carer is entirely misplaced.
Lennon’s cup record at the national stadium is mixed. In his first stint in charge of Celtic, from 2010 to 2014, his team were unexpectedly beaten in three semi-finals and a final, as well as being overcome by Rangers in the 2011 League Cup decider. Later, in charge of Hibs, he lost to Aberdeen and Celtic in cup semi-finals.
But he insists that the Celtic squad assembled by his predecessor Brendan Rodgers has exhibited a more ruthless streak on such major occasions and will be strong enough to see off the threat of Aberdeen in tomorrow’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final.
Lennon is bidding to steer Celtic to a third consecutive treble, completing the job done by Rodgers across a faultless 31-month period of domestic dominance.
“A lot’s been made of that [supposed hoodoo] this week but I can’t get those games back and in a few of them we should have won but we didn’t,” Lennon said. “Call it Lady Luck or a curse or whatever, I’m not into that superstitious stuff. Sometimes, it’s just what happens on the day. I don’t think we played badly in any of the games at all and I won two out of four [Scottish] cups.
“It’s all right, but compared to Brendan, it’s not because you have to be perfect to match that record. It’s about me just working for the players and helping them get over the line and achieving something very, very special.”
Lennon stepped into the breach when Rodgers quit in February for Leicester City and he believes his interim status means his role at Celtic must viewed in a different context. He also feels that too much has been made of his side’s tepid goalless draw with Livingston last weekend.
“I’m not the manager, at the end of the day,” Lennon said. “I am not the full-time manager. It’s important the players recognise that and they do. To be fair, I think sometimes we get over-analysed and criticised. We are unbeaten since we have come in and have extended our lead at the top of the table.
“A 0-0 draw at home [to Livingston] and all of a sudden it is a Doomsday scenario. That’s something I can’t control. I am in charge with my staff but it’s all about the players and they’ve got four games to complete something that would be really historical, so that’s our focus.”
Just how historical a third straight clean sweep for Celtic would be is that Lennon considers it a feat no team would be capable of matching in his lifetime.
“I thought the double treble was good! I thought the going the season unbeaten [domestically] and winning the treble [in Rodgers’ first season] was something I’d never see again. Now they’ve done two and they’re on the cusp of a third. It’s fantastic what they’ve done for the domestic game. Everybody wants to beat them and they overcome all those obstacles and challenges and they just keep going. It must be fatiguing mentally and physically at times, and we’ve probably seen a little bit of that, but when the big games come they really sharpen their minds again and focus.
“I look back on some of the games we lost [in my time as Celtic manager] and the Kilmarnock one in the League Cup final [in 2012] we should have been home and hosed before they scored. You think is it a psychological thing? There was a 3-2 defeat to St Mirren in a semi-final when we missed a penalty and that changed the psychology when we were well on top. But whatever I missed Brendan obviously remedied with this squad of players. I might be giving him a call tonight or tomorrow just to get a bit of advice from him…”