In their Betfred Cup semi-final against Hibernian at Hampden this evening, the Scottish treble treble winners will seek to rack up a record 30th consecutive domestic cup-tie victory and earn a place in a final to bid for a tenth straight domestic honour.
Lennon has been responsible for five of these cup-tie wins and two of the trophies in guiding the club to Scottish Cup and Premiership triumphs when taking the reins for a second time following Brendan Rodgers’ switch to Leicester City after two-and-a-half seasons of faultless domestic silverware returns.
That ensures the former Celtic midfielder has made a short but valuable contribution to a remarkable sequence which he has no doubts provides the most powerful motivation to the club’s players each time they tackle a cup challenge. Not least among the core comprising Scott Brown – who remains a doubt with a strain picked up in the midweek win over St Mirren – James Forrest, Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic, Oliver Ntcham and Craig Gordon who have been involved right throughout a history-redrawing sequence.
It is an unprecedented domination of the Scottish game that has been achieved by dealing with each challenge on its merits. That is why he has no fears about anyone on his staff allowing thoughts to drift to a potentially decisive Europa League tie against Lazio on Thursday.
“You just bench Lazio completely and just focus on Hibs,” he said. “This is the knockout phase now, so there is no comeback if you don’t play well and perform. The players know how important the game is. It’s part of the trebles they have won over the last three seasons and it’s a competition they’ve been brilliant in.
“The cup record is really important to them as well in both the competitions, so our whole motivation and focus is on Hibs and we’ll think about Lazio come Sunday.
“I’ve done all right [with five cup wins since taking over in February] but it’s just a small part of an amazing record really. The more you win, the more hungry you get for it and the more you want to protect it. Anything can happen in knockout football and we have seen that in the past. Ronny [Deila] saw it, we’ve all seen it, Martin [O’Neill] and Gordon [Strachan] too. It’s an amazing record that Brendan built the foundations for, and thankfully I’m picking it up as we go along. You never know if anyone will do this again, but you might not see it for a long, long time. We’re very aware of the fact anything can happen on a given day, so we’ve left no stone unturned in our preparation, and we’ll put a very strong team out tomorrow.”
In Paul Heckingbottom’s side, Celtic face a team firmly in the mire and loosening their manager’s grip on his job as a result of failing to win in 90 minutes since their opening league weekend defeat of St Mirren almost three months ago. But the dangers of the Premiership’s ninth-placed side remain clear to a Lennon, whose last job was on Leith.
“People ask if complacency will be the biggest factor [for us]. It’s not. Hibs are the biggest factor that will stop us going through. They have decent players there, who I know.”