My Celtic future doesn’t hinge on Old Firm results against Rangers, says Neil Lennon

Neil Lennon is aware that victory in tomorrow’s third derby of the season against Rangers will effectively secure an eighth successive championship for Celtic, leaving them with a 13-point lead and a superior goal difference with only seven fixtures remaining.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS

On the other hand, a first win at Parkhead for nine years by the Ibrox side would reduce the gap at the top to seven points and provide the visitors with a faint hope of overhauling their city rivals.

There will be another meeting of the clubs in Govan after the break but, while supporters of both sides will scrutinise Lennon and his Rangers counterpart, Steven Gerrard, and their performances in these encounters, the former does not believe that their outcomes will have a significant impact on his prospects of transforming his status as interim manager into a permanent position.

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“Of course I’ll be judged [by the fans], yeah,” he said. “These are the games that matter and the ones everyone talks about. Whether it be the performances of players [or managers], these are the ones that people remember.”

However, he gave little credence that his own position will be decided by the results in the two meetings with his closest rivals.

“I’m not convinced by that,” he claimed. “I don’t think my future is based on the result of one game or two games against Rangers. It’ll be the whole package over the three months I’ll have been in charge.

“There is a lot of speculation surrounding that but that’s all it is – speculation and conjecture – and I’ve obviously taken no notice of it.”

Lennon returns to the home technical area for a match with Rangers for the first time since 29 April 2012. On that occasion Celtic, who had already clinched the SPL title, won 3-0 with goals by Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons and Gary Hooper.

Rangers had already plunged into administration and were on their way to being liquidated, prompting home fans to brandish banners featuring the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

It is also almost nine years since Lennon’s first experience of the fixture as the interim manager. On 4 May 2010, a matter of weeks after filling the breach left by the dismissal of Tony Mowbray, Lennon oversaw a 2-1 victory with a team which included Landry N’Guemo, Edson Braafheid, Lukasz Zaluska and Darren O’Dea,

“I worked a miracle, didn’t I?” he laughed. “Marc-Antione Fortune scored and I think Lee Naylor converted a free-kick but Rangers came back really strongly.

“We responded really well again. The second half was tight. Rangers were already champions at that stage and were a strong team so it was a great feeling to get over the line.

“There was no real pressure on that game as the league had already gone but it still mattered to me personally. To get my first win against Rangers and Walter Smith was just a nice feather in my cap, really.”

Lennon was as surprised as anyone by the lacklustre display by Celtic when they lost 1-0 at Ibrox on 29 December last year but he does not expect a repeat of that insipid showing tomorrow.

“They need to learn from that and draw on the experience of how they felt afterwards as well and use that as a motivation,” said the Irishman. “Obviously, we’ll be showing them some clips of the game and where we didn’t do so well as part of our analysis.

“For Rangers it was probably a case of removing the monkey from their back because it had been such a long time coming, but since then we’ve kicked on and it shows the mentality of the team. They seem to get it right at the right time.”

That came as a relief to Lennon, who admits he was very conscious of dropping the ball after replacing Brendan Rodgers at the end of last month, with Celtic eight points clear of Rangers.

“Of course; that’s a natural thing,” he said. “It’s a different voice and the players would miss the influence of Brendan and his staff. We tried not to change too much of anything at all, really, and just manage them along as we go.”

Gerrard lives across the street from Lennon in Glasgow’s West End and he accepted that one of them may not wish to draw the blinds on Monday 

“I’m a lot calmer this time around,” he said. “I’m more experienced and a little less hot-headed. I’ll just let the game take its course and try to help everybody keep their emotions in check because, as we’ve seen before, you can get carried away.

“Many of the players will have their own motivation for this game after the defeat at Ibrox but it’ll be a question of reminding them of their good habits. We need to start the game well.”