CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has set his team the target of going the whole Scottish Premiership season unbeaten in order to move on from their William Hill Scottish Cup exit.
Lennon has previously been reticent to discuss the prospect of finishing the 38-game campaign undefeated but the chance to become the first Scottish champions to do so since the 19th century has taken on more significance following Aberdeen’s fifth-round win at Celtic Park on Saturday.
Celtic have gone 24 games unbeaten so far, winning their last 13, and Lennon wants to maintain the spark about their season despite the destiny of the title being a formality given their 21-point lead over the Dons.
Lennon, whose team host St Johnstone on Sunday, said: “The incentive now is to go unbeaten the rest of the season. That’s the target for them and to win the championship with a bit of style.
“The cup was important to us because we were the holders but we can’t dwell on it. We’ve had a brilliant season, with Champions League football as well.
“Some players are right at the top of their game. They have entertained all season, they have broken records and we want to finish the season in style rather than let it peter out. You can’t let one bad game out of 26 deter what you are trying to do.”
Celtic’s only other domestic defeat this season came against Morton in the League Cup, and he was keen to put the 2-1 loss to Aberdeen in perspective given it came after a 12-game domestic run without conceding a goal.
However, he knows finishing the league season unbeaten might not stop some people accusing the team of having failed this season given the lack of cup success during a period when Rangers are absent from the top flight.
“You never change people’s views on it,” Lennon said. “Yes, we are disappointed to be out of the cups. There were mitigating circumstances for the League Cup but certainly the (Scottish) FA Cup was a disappointment.
“Whether it’s been a disappointing season winning the championship, maybe that’s how far we have set our standards.
“We know it has maybe not been as fruitful as last year but the priorities were always Champions League and league and we are still on target for that. Any cup is a bonus on top of that.”
Celtic’s league form earned Lennon the Scottish Premiership manager of the month award for January and he was keen to stress his players’ achievements rather than focusing on one loss.
“It shows the consistency that the players have shown all season and it shows that last week came out of left field because the form in the previous two months had been red hot,” he said.
“All we want to do is get back to winning ways on Sunday and continue in the same vein of form we have shown for 95 per cent of the season.
“We were disappointed but you can’t dwell on it. Too many didn’t perform on the day and we move on. I have played in games like that where the harder you try, the worse it gets.
“You could see that some of the players were really scrambling. The attitude was good but it just wasn’t our day and that can happen in a cup tie.”
Charlie Mulgrew is back in training after missing the Aberdeen game with a calf knock but James Forrest is a doubt again.