Neil Lennon taking nothing for granted despite ten-point Celtic lead in title race
A second half blitz of Hearts to secure a 5-0 win, coupled with Rangers’ 2-1 defeat by Kilmarnock, allowed the Scottish champions to extend their lead to 10 points over the Ibrox side who have played a game fewer.
The contrasting league fortunes of the Glasgow clubs since the winter break – Celtic having won all six of their Premiership fictures as Rangers have lost two and drawn one – refused to lead Lennon to make any grand claims about the state of play on a night that ended with the Celtic fans celebrating with deafening chants of “here we go, ten-in-a-row”.
Asked about his message for a club support who believe another title is in the bag, the Celtic manager picked his words carefully, and made no mention of the burning issue.
“You’re amazing, thank you for your support and we’ll do all we can to keep entertaining you. They’re the best fans in the world as far as I’m concerned,” he said, having earlier reflected on the ten-point gap.
“It gives them a bit of confidence. We have a tricky game on Sunday at Pittodrie. Aberdeen had a great win [against Hamilton on Tuesday] and we’re taking absolutely nothing for granted.”
Asked about the turnaround since losing at home to Rangers in the final game before the winter shutdown - which allowed Rangers to move within a point of their rivals having played a game fewer - Lennon said: “That’s the way football goes. We kept calm and we just do what we do best conscientiously, behind the scenes, with the support network there. You can see the players’ fitness levels are very good. The squad is looking stronger as well.
“They were magnificent [against Hearts] - the desire and hunger to play, scoring goals, their running. Everything you want as a manager from a team I got. It was an emphatic win and an outstanding second-half performance.”
Hearts manager Daniel Stendel claimed his team lacked belief, even as they gave Celtic a few scares in an encouraging opening period that gave way to a desperate capitulation.
“I want to try and give the players the feeling we have a chance,” he said. “Our plan was good but our game wasn’t like our plan. We played like rabbits in the headlights. From the first moment you could see the look. We tried to change our confidence on the pitch with the substitutions from Washington on the pitch then we conceded.
“After this we played a little bit better and we wanted to keep it in the second half but five minutes into the second half the game went against us. It is very difficult for us to keep our confidence and stay together but it’s the one and only way for us in difficult moments. It was a very difficult night tonight but we must stay together and look forward to Saturday.”