Neil Lennon 'will protect Celtic players' in wake of Rangers defeat

The target placed on Neil Lennon’s back by a Celtic support vicious in their sniping since Saturday’s derby defeat will be worn dutifully by the Irishman.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon says he is not "looking for favours" amid derby backlash from club's support despite scooping all domestic silverware in his 20-month second spell (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The Celtic manager is well aware the buck stops with him, and the 49-year-old refuses to shift that on to his under-performing squad. The Scottish champions have the unenviable task of facing AC Milan at home in the Europa League as they seek to respond from the grim showing against Rangers. Lennon won’t have Covid-19 sufferers Odsonne Edouard - Aberdeen on Sunday offering a possible return for the striker - Nir Bitton or Hatem Abd Elhamed at his disposal for a daunting assignment that Ryan Christie is back for. However, the Celtic manager won’t flinch as he prepares for Milan.

“You have to take it,” he said of the frightening fall-out from the weekend. “We were bitterly disappointed and we’re hurting. We’re looking for a positive reaction and know we can play better. Ultimately the responsibility is on me. I pick the team and the formation. It didn’t work [on Saturday]. But I have utter belief in these players. They’ve done amazing things over the last four or five years. I’m convinced they’ll continue to do so. I can’t any more of what the players have given me in my time since coming back into the club [in February 2019]. It’s been sort of perfect. OK, the Champions League exit was a major disappointment to us but that’s something we have to get over. At the weekend that was our second defeat to Rangers in a row. We could and should have played better. But cannot let one bad performance and one defeat rankle with us.

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“We’re not happy with the performance levels since basically the start of the season. We had one really good game where we flowed and that was against Hibs. The other ones, while I wouldn’t say a struggle as we dominated, didn’t see us as penetrating or fluid as we can be. But it’s down to me to rectify that and find the answers. We talk and have dialogue with the players and they’re a brilliant bunch to work with. They need a bit of protection as well and that’s what I’m there for.”

Lennon doesn’t give headroom to whether he ought to have more credit in the bank following four straight trophies in the past year-and-a-half - a run has supplied him with the best win rate of any managerial spell in the club’s history. The 10-in-a-row quest appears to be blinding the Celtic faithful to reason.

‘I don’t buy into the praise when it comes too much – and I don’t buy into the criticism however vicious or personal,” he said. “I don’t accept it, I don’t agree with it, but I keep my counsel. I think it’s important to keep your professional dignity and your professional integrity intact. It doesn’t matter how people perceive me. The important thing is the club, the important thing is the team, the important thing is the players. I need to get that right on a consistent basis. I think we’ve done pretty well since we came back in, but I don’t ask for any favours from anyone. That’s just the nature of how this season is going to be.”

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