Rangers were never going to catch us, insists Celtic boss Neil Lennon

We were getting stronger as the challengers faded away, says manager

Celtic manager Neil Lennon celebrates the club being crowned champions for a ninth successive season.
Celtic manager Neil Lennon celebrates the club being crowned champions for a ninth successive season.

Neil Lennon has insisted Celtic were never going to be caught by Rangers at the top of the Premiership if the 2019-20 season had been played to a finish on the pitch.

Celtic were declared champions for a record-equalling ninth year in a row at an SPFL board meeting on Monday morning which agreed to curtail the top-flight campaign and award final placings on a points-per-game basis as the table stood when football was suspended on 13 March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision also relegates Hearts to the Championship, although the Gorgie club are still threatening a legal challenge against the SPFL if they are not reprieved by an imminent proposal for league reconstruction by owner Ann Budge.

Celtic still had eight matches outstanding in the Premiership season and boasted a 13-point lead over closest challengers Rangers who had a game in hand.

But Lennon gives short shrift to any suggestions that the 51st league title win in Celtic’s history is in any way diminished by the circumstances in which it has been secured. “I can’t stop people from trying to put a negative spin on what we were achieving,” said the Celtic manager.

“But I don’t think anyone could have not foreseen us winning the league with the way we were playing, the form and consistency we were showing.

“No-one could keep up with us. We just kept applying the pressure week in, week out and eventually all the other teams around us faded away.

“When our lead started going into double figures, I felt there was no way we were going to relinquish it then. You look at the league table and how many wins are needed. Obviously, the next game was supposed to have been at Ibrox [on the Sunday after football was suspended]. If we’d have taken points off Rangers then, that would have shortened the number of wins we’d have needed.

“So you start preparing to win it. That’s what we were looking to do, to win it by an even bigger margin. We weren’t looking to relax. We couldn’t anyway, because we had the Scottish Cup semi-final with Aberdeen in our thoughts as well. We had to stay on it and stay focused because we were trying to get a fourth consecutive domestic treble. So the focus, the concentration and the intensity were all there.

“We were right up for the Rangers game at Ibrox that weekend. We were all looking forward to that. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see out the season the way we’d have liked.

“This gets overlooked – we are the ones who have missed out a lot, even from a football perspective in terms of going for a treble, playing in the Scottish Cup semi and eventually winning the league in front of our own supporters.”

Lennon’s immediate celebrations amounted to “a few Zoom calls” with his staff and players, while he predicted “a few drinks” at home on Monday night.

“I’d love to be with my staff and my players and hopefully sooner rather than later we will get together and enjoy what we’ve achieved,” he added.

Summing up the campaign, which has also included a League Cup triumph and winning a tough Europa League group involving Lazio, Rennes and Cluj, Lennon declared himself extremely satisfied.

“When I look back on this season, it’s probably my best as a manager in terms of where we are,” he said.

“What we achieved in Europe – winning away to Lazio and doing the double over them, given how strong they were in Serie A, while you see Rennes finishing third in the French league.

“We came out of a really strong group by topping it. I think there’s more to come from this team. We’ll keep pushing them.”

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