The vagaries of the game that could see Neil Lennon land the title for Celtic tomorrow at the Easter Road ground that, until only three months ago, was his management home are not lost on the Parkhead club’s interim manager.
“It would be weird,” said the 47-year-old, who is cutting a more relaxed figure following the comprehensive Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Aberdeen last Saturday that has moved Celtic within touching distance of an extraordinary treble treble that will go on the line in the final against Hearts next month.
“If you said to me at the start of the season I’ll win the league at Easter Road I’d have thought ‘**** me, we’re having some season’. It’s just funny how football throws these quirks up and coincidences.
“But listen, Rangers could win at Tynecastle and all that goes out the window. All we’re thinking about is winning two games [to get over the line]. We negotiated the semi-final brilliantly when we were under a lot of pressure. We’re looking for more of the same on Sunday against a team that’s playing very, very well.
“We’re at our best when we’re under pressure. The players [might] take their foot off the pedal [sometimes] but raise their game brilliantly in pressure games. This is just the next one, the most important one because it’s the next one.”
Lennon, right, concedes that surmounting their Hampden hurdles last week was “psychologically big” for the players. It was equally so for him. He suddenly appears to exude the authority of a man who recognises he could be on the cusp of replacing the departed Brendan Rodgers on a permanent basis. His burnished status is reflected in the fact that he has been tipped as a possible candidate for both the vacant Scotland and Fulham posts. He believes a Scot should be hired for a national job the Irishman says he has no interest in, while his name being associated with Craven Cottage is a development that merely tells him how quickly perceptions can alter.
“It’s just noise,” Lennon said of the Fulham speculation. “It was like last week with all the people linked with this job here. Now it’s me being linked with other jobs. I’m not taking a bit of notice of it, honestly.”
The fallout from the semi-final success has left him without Ryan Christie for the season and likely ruled the midfielder out of Scotland’s June Euro 2020 qualifiers, with the player requiring extensive facial surgery following Dom Ball’s reckless aerial challenge.
“I spoke to Ryan on Monday and he was in good spirits,” Lennon added. “We didn’t realise the extent of it until the X-rays and it’s multiple fractures, not just the one. Hopefully we will see him around the place next week. He’s really gutted at missing the cup final. He was brave going for that challenge, he’s had a stellar breakthrough season for us. I would doubt he will be available for Scotland because he’s needing a bit of reconstruction work as well.”
Lennon, who has suffered more abuse from fans than any dugout figure in recent times, also expressed support for Derek McInnes. The Aberdeen manager is facing a conduct charge from the SFA after making a gesture to a section of the Celtic support that subjected him to the sectarian chant of “sad Orange b*****d” during Sunday’s semi-final, a reaction that led to his being sent to the stand and which he said he regretted.
“I have sympathy for him,” said Lennon. “He’s a human being. We condemn it across the board. I don’t like to see it. I know Derek very well, he’s a great football guy with a lot of integrity and he’s even said that he got it wrong. I think that will work in his favour. Sometimes [to react] is human nature. I don’t want to hear it from our fans and elsewhere. I believe certain managers are due more respect at times.”