CELTIC assistant manager Johan Mjallby has sided with Neil Lennon’s contention that the Parkhead side are not getting enough credit as they moved to within a point of the league title following yesterday’s 2-0 victory over St Johnstone.
Lennon again side-stepped media duties after the victory, which means Celtic have only to draw against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Saturday to clinch a first title since 2008. The manager is believed to be peeved at newspaper coverage of his side’s recent dip in form while his recent comments to the media about referees have again landed him in trouble with the Scottish Football Association.
“He is having a break,” explained Mjallby, after a header from Georgios Samaras and an own goal from St Johnstone midfielder Chris Millar secured the points for the home team, who were bidding to avoid their first run of three successive domestic defeats since 1994. “I think he is quite used to his job and that includes being the main man and having to answer all your questions,” Mjallby added, as he was quizzed about the manager’s absence.
Whether or not Lennon consents to re-engage with the media in the run-up to Saturday’s match at Kilmarnock remains to be seen. He now knows the title is in Celtic’s own hands. Rangers’ victory at Motherwell on Saturday meant Celtic were frustrated in their aim to secure the championship at Parkhead yesterday. The coronation has taken longer than expected following last weekend’s defeat at Ibrox. Yesterday saw Celtic win their first league match since the end of February though Mjallby believes criticism of the team, who were also beaten in the final of the League Cup by Kilmarnock, has been too harsh.
“I think it has been a wee bit too much,” said Mjallby, whose side are now 18 points clear of second-placed Rangers. “We have been on a fantastic run. You have to remember where we were in October and after a great run we have turned it around. Now we are only one point from clinching the title. We have not won the title yet but you can say it has been a great achievement to turn it round and the boys have been fantastic.
“It’s always a relief when it is in your own hands,” he added. “Even so, there are six games to go. Sure, we want to win it on Saturday – but we also want to improve on last season’s points record when we achieved 92 points. We want to go at least one better. Then you can always say it’s been an improvement.”
Meanwhile, Georgios Samaras has urged his team-mates to relax and enjoy the run-in. The Greek player was named man of the match yesterday and was a central figure in the win. As well as scoring the opening goal with a header after 66 minutes, he swept in the cross four minutes later which was turned into his own net by Millar.
“It’s 18 points clear – it’s not two or three,” he said. “It’s now a matter of when we are going to win it. We don’t feel pressure. I don’t know why we were so nervous in the first half. There was a strange atmosphere on the pitch. But I think in the second half we played more football. That’s what we need to do from now on.
“It’s been a hard season. We need to relax a bit and go and enjoy games. No-one else is going to win the championship.”
“We need to start again and play good football and be like we were before March. We need to enjoy it more. We need to play the way we know. We need to love it, nothing else.”