Neil Lennon says he wouldn’t have survived Steven Gerrard’s barren run

Celtic manager also jokes that Ally McCoist should ‘stay off the Buckie’

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard has been praised by Celtic counterpart Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS

Neil Lennon has questioned whether he would have survived as Celtic manager had he endured two barren seasons, a fate that has befallen Steven Gerrard at Rangers.

The Irishman has won four trophies in a row when ranged against the former Liverpool captain over the past 14 months, but he is full of praise for the progress of the Ibrox side under Gerrard.

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The pair assumed their roles under very different circumstances. Lennon inherited a team that had won back-to-back trebles and seven straight titles when returning to the club in March 2019. Gerrard took on a Rangers side that were without a major honour since 2011 – the year before they were liquidated and forced to restart in the fourth tier.

Speaking in an interview with BT Sport, Lennon was asked whether he thought he’d still be “in a job after two seasons without a trophy?”

“Probably not, such is the nature of it in Glasgow and the expectation,” said the Celtic manager. “I think there’s been a steady improvement in Rangers – they were really strong in the first half of the season, as we were. I think people take that for granted because we were getting pushed and were responding every time. Then in the second half of the season we responded even better to the point that the teams around us couldn’t keep up with us.

“That’s something I don’t take lightly as it takes a certain mentality to do that, winning when everyone expects you to win and when everyone is scrutinising every performance. These players have been doing that for a long, long time now. So I need to pay enormous credit to the players for their ruthlessness and their mindset.”

The pursuit of a record tenth consecutive championship will come against a backdrop that could be much changed by the impact of a coronavirus pandemic, with the new season expected to start behind closed doors.

But Rangers will be determined to push their ancient adversaries all the way, even if Lennon did acknowledge there had been an over-reaction to Celtic’s loss to Gerrard’s team at home on 29 December, a result that left Rangers only two points behind the leaders with a game in hand – a differential that was stretched to 13 points by the time the Premiership was curtailed in the second week of March.

“Rangers played well and competed well, and we felt there was a title challenge on. I said that after the game,” said Lennon. “So that was a great motivation for me and my staff to take it on. People were right to talk about a title challenge because it was nip and tuck in that first half of the season.

“You have to take that one on the chin. But we had a steely determination about us, going away. It hurt. And we had to stew on things for a week or two. But that’s a real test of your character as a manager.”

Lennon was playful when asked by former team-mate Chris Sutton what he would whisper in the ear of Ally McCoist over the Rangers legend’s contention that Celtic’s title win – confirmed without finishing the season – should carry an asterisk. “Stay off the Buckie,” said Lennon.

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