The nine-in-a-row title party has started already as far as many Celtic supporters are concerned but Neil Lennon remains in no mood to entertain premature celebrations.
His team may have taken what looks like a giant stride towards the retention of their Premiership crown with Wednesday’s 5-0 dismantling of Hearts at Celtic Park while nearest challengers Rangers were stumbling to defeat at Kilmarnock.
Even a ten-point lead at the top of the table, however, will not shift Lennon’s gaze from the “tunnel vision” he says has driven his players throughout their impressive run of form since the winter break.
Celtic’s response to their 2-1 home defeat against Rangers at the end of December could scarcely have been more emphatic.
They have won all six of their league games since returning to action in January, scoring 22 goals and conceding just two. With Rangers dropping eight points in the same period, it all adds up to a commanding advantage for Lennon’s side. “You have to pay credit to the players, their motivation and desire to both win the games and do so in the manner they are playing,” said the Celtic manager.
“We have a good group and mentally they are in a good place at the minute. We are delighted with the winning run we have been on since we came back from the break.
“We just have to keep the tunnel vision now and not worry about what anyone else is doing.
“There’s going to be a bump in the road here and there, I said that in the first half of the season. It will be the same in the second half of the season as well.
“No, there is [no title party for us], not at all. I was just delighted with the performance and the win against Hearts. We are just trying to take care of our own business. We have another tricky game coming up on Sunday away from home at Aberdeen.
“We were delighted with the win on Wednesday and the way we played against a team who could have caused problems with the way they set up. We dealt with it very well.
“The bigger the gap [at the top of the table], the happier we will be. The level and quality of our performances, the fitness levels of the players, is very high. The break was a good time for us, we got some good work into them and are reaping the benefit of it now.
“It’s not an easy thing to do. I’m delighted with the consistency we have shown, the goals we have scored and a lot of the clean sheets we are keeping as well.
“It’s the sum of all parts. Our defenders are playing well and contributing with goals, the midfield is superb and the front men have been breathtaking at times.”
Lennon feels experience left him better equipped to deal with the setback of the Old Firm defeat six weeks ago which saw some flak come his way from among the Celtic support.
“You feel pressure every week, you feel it going into every game,” he added. “That’s just the nature of the job really. You have to take it, you have to take the criticism when it comes, and you take on board what some people say if it is factual or realistic and ignore the rest.
“The expectations are so high, and when you get beat you have to mull it over for a couple of days.
“You know those external factors are there, but you just have to blank it out and concentrate on doing your job as conscientiously as you can.
“There have been a few occasions where I might have reacted differently the first time around, so I’m not that person I was maybe ten years ago. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes that’s a bad thing.
“There was a lot of criticism after we lost to Rangers because it was a significant game. I understand that. We had to take it and come again.
“That’s exactly what we have done. We have shown good spirit and solidarity within the group – and good quality as well.
“Did people over-react to that [defeat against Rangers]? You think so? Yeah, that’s what happens in the modern game. We have to try to keep a realistic touch on it.
“We analysed where we went wrong and moved on. So far, it’s been very good. We had a lot of injuries coming into the end of December but I’m now getting a lot of players back fit. We had to juggle things around a little bit but I’m pleased with the depth we have got now.
“I think there is more to come from us. We have Mo Elyounoussi to come into our thinking, we have Ryan Christie back scoring. Patryk Klimala and Ismaila Soro are going through an adaptation period to get used to things. We also have Tom Rogic fighting for a place in the team and squad. Sometimes it’s hard for me to pick a bench, in terms of which good players I have to leave out.”