Celtic manager Neil Lennon issued a warning to all those who want to see his team to trip up – insisting their pride will not let them concede their domestic superiority without a fight.
Well aware that his side are now on a hiding to nothing as everyone expects them to sweep all challengers aside, he said the players, who are desperate to build on the treble treble, had been cautioned about taking anything for granted.
“You have to ignore it,” said Lennon, who saw his team beat Hibs 5-2 in the Betfred Cup semi-final at Hampden to extend their unbeaten cup run to 30 games and move to within one match of winning their tenth successive piece of domestic silverware. “I don’t expect them to win – I hope they can, I believe they can, but to expect something isn’t what we do.
“We prepare them the right way and, yeah, they are under a lot of scrutiny just now. People want to see this run end and their pride just won’t let that happen just now.
“It will go one day but they’re relentless in their pursuit of trophies just now and they’re doing it with style.
“We were breathtaking from start to finish with some of the football and the attacking intent. Obviously, we scored five goals which is fantastic for a semi, and we could have had more. We’ve hit the post twice, their keeper has made some great saves, we’ve shaved things across the box – we were absolutely scintillating. I can’t speak highly enough of the level of performance and the mentality of the team at the minute.
“We’re in a good place. It could have been a tough game for us but the way they went about their business made it very comfortable.”
With a trip to Rome to face Lazio this week, the display and the result was a perfect confidence boost for a team who have proved they have the will as well as the wherewithal to face up to every major challenge that comes their way these days.
“Anything can happen on any given day. You get bad days – I’ve had them as a player and a manager – but Brendan Rodgers has put this sort of mentality in place and we’re trying to carry that on,” said Lennon. “The players just don’t want to give that up. Everyone’s coming for them but they want to stand there toe to toe with them and keep going.”
Thrilled with the input of two-goal heroes Mohamed Elyounoussi, who Lennon said was making the team better but improving himself as a consequence of playing with quality team-mates, and Scott Brown, who “just keeps writing more stories for himself”, the manager insisted there was now a great incentive to replicate this performances against Lazio.
“Psychologically the players are in a good place and all will be wanting to play. When you’re playing the kind of football they are producing then you just want to keep going.”
For Hibs boss Paul Heckingbottom, the targets are simply about improving results on the home front.
“This was separate from the league,” he said. “Our focus now is on the league. I’ve seen more than enough to believe we can get out of it [the lowly position they are in] and change things. I’ve told the players to get their heads up, there’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves.”
But, disappointed in the match officials who missed Odsonne Edouard straying offside in the build-up to Celtic’s second goal, he called for them to come under closer examination.
“I said to [referee] Bobby Madden when we were coming out after half-time, ‘come, give us a break’.
“I don’t moan about it but it’s a fact that we’re getting them [bad calls] all the time. As much as we focus on ourselves to do our bit, there should be more scrutiny. There should be more accountability. I don’t think there is and it always costs us.”