Neil Lennon defends ‘raucous celebration’ as Celtic leave it late to extend lead over Rangers

Celtic manager Neil Lennon hailed his players for striking what he believes is a psychologically devastating blow on Rangers ahead of the Old Firm showdown at the end of this month after the reigning champions moved ten points clear at the top of the Premiership table.

Neil Lennon (lower left) raced up the touchline to celebrate with the travelling fans. Picture: SNS Group
Neil Lennon (lower left) raced up the touchline to celebrate with the travelling fans. Picture: SNS Group

Odsonne Edouard’s dramatic 96th-minute goal earned Celtic a 1-0 win over Dundee at Dens Park and ensured they took full advantage of the latest slip-up from Steven Gerrard’s men, who were held at home by Kilmarnock on Saturday.

With just eight games of the Premiership campaign remaining, Lennon feels the pressure has now eased considerably on Celtic going into their clash at home to Rangers on 31 March.

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“It’s significant,” said Lennon, who celebrated Edouard’s winner by sprinting down the touchline to celebrate in front of the jubilant Celtic fans in the Bob Shankly Stand.

“We are not taking anything for granted but it’s significant. Psychologically it’s huge. Is there a bit less pressure on us going into the Rangers game now? Yes. I think so. It means we don’t have to win it.

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“We would love to win it and get over the line as quickly as possible.

“But all the onus is on the other teams around us. The gap between first and second in the table now is bigger than the gap between second and third - and that’s significant for us.”

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Lennon has now overseen three victories and a draw in his four games at the helm since replacing Brendan Rodgers last month as he looks to successfully complete Celtic’s bid for a third consecutive domestic treble.

“It’s relief, it’s emotion,” said Lennon of his raucous celebration. “It’s the importance of the goal.

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“It’s not easy coming into the job at this stage with the way things are and following in someone’s shoes and taking on the reins of a style of play you are not used to with different players. 
“I’ve had to address that bit by bit and what you saw at the end there was just relief at getting the win.

“It’s a totally different pressure here. You’re not going into a club that’s been struggling or the atmosphere has been bad. 
“It’s been on the up here for the last two and a half years and a great manager has walked out the door. It’s been a difficult period but it’s also been an education.

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“You are not always going to roll over teams, especially teams who are fighting for their livelihoods and their position in the league like Dundee. They defended like trojans. 
“They defended like warriors and made it very difficult for us.”

Dundee manager Jim McIntyre was left shattered by the manner of a defeat which leaves his side just one point ahead of St Mirren at the bottom of the table and having played a game more than the Paisley side.

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He was left bemused by referee Bobby Madden’s decision to add on six minutes of stoppage time.

“I fail to see where six minutes came from,” said McIntyre. “I thought that was too much. I thought it should have been four minutes, maximum. 
“I spoke to Bobby and the fourth official (John Beaton) and the reason I was given was that there were a couple of head knocks.

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“I thought we deserved a point for the effort we put into the game but ultimately we’ve been done in the last minute or two of the six that were added on.

“Having said that, that’s not the reason we lost. We had a great opportunity on the counter-attack with two minutes to go and we’ve got to be better. That’s the reason we are where we are.

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“We were excellent with our determination to keep the ball out of our net but we need to be better in the final third, simple as that. We didn’t do what Celtic did. 
“They were ruthless. That’s why we’ve not picked up enough points since I came here.”