'I'd back myself against anybody' insists Neil Lennon

THERE might be a sense of the season drifting to a conclusion for many Celtic supporters, but this is far from Neil Lennon's state of mind. For the interim manager, the stakes remain high as he bids to make the most of an opportunity that will likely never come his way again.

• Neil Lennon and Johan Mjallby during a Celtic training session. Picture: SNS

Lennon made a point of noting that his days as a player were recent enough to encourage those within his squad to listen to what he has to say. Yesterday, he reminded those present at what was only his second briefing since Tony Mowbray's departure of those characteristics he tended to display when patrolling the midfield beat for Celtic. Lennon came across as determined and confident; bolshie even. At one point he declared that he would back himself against anybody when it came to suitability for a job that has landed in his lap in such unexpected fashion.

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Only once did the 38-year-old admit to what might be termed a moment of doubt. It arrived as he sat in his office earlier this week, following last weekend's impressive start to his reign. Although Celtic defeated Kilmarnock 3-1 at Parkhead in his first game, the enormity of the task he had been handed suddenly engulfed him.

"I was sitting in my office on my own and the gravity of it all hit me, but I quickly dismissed it," he said with a smile. "There is no point getting hyped up about it. It's a job at the end of the day. There's a great responsibility but the rewards are brilliant – I am in a position where I can make a lot of people very, very happy."

He dismissed those who claim that his relative inexperience of life in the dug-out should instantly rule him out as a candidate for one of the toughest, most heavily scrutinised posts in British football.

"There have been a lot of managers with a lot of experience who have failed," he stated. "Why do you need all the experience in the world to manage the Old Firm? You tell me.

"I have had a year and-a-half coaching under Gordon (Strachan] and another year working with the players. I know them better than most. It might be a quick fix, I don't know.

"Or it might suit the club to throw me in there and see how it goes. I need to maximise the opportunity and make it impossible for them to ignore me. I would back myself against anybody."

It was classic Lennon, and put you in mind of the Northern Irishman in his pomp; chest puffed out, eyes blazing.

He lived with the best with Celtic in the Champions League, and he sees no reason why he cannot shrug off those higher-profile opponents who now stand between him and his dream of being appointed full-time manager of the club he clearly loves.

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He returned to this lack of experience charge often during yesterday's press conference, prior to tomorrow's difficult assignment against Hibernian at Easter Road. "I try and balance that up by saying I know how players feel," he said, when responding to another question highlighting his novice status.

"I know what they go through in games. It was only recently I was playing at the top level. Two or three years ago I was playing at the San Siro.

"I know what they (the players] go through, I know how they are feeling. I understand it."

"There are one or two lively boys in there, but I do understand their humour," he added. "I understand their personalities and I know what they are going through at home."

While an empathy might exist between him and his squad, Lennon was careful to underline that he knows how to lay down the law. Indeed, he positively revels in this promotion to a figure of authority.

The players need no reminding who is in charge.

"I am not their mate – they know that," he pointed out. "I was not their mate when I played, when I was captain. They are a lot younger than me anyway. They had their own group. We did some things socially together but when it came to training I was the boss."

His enthusiasm for the position is as clearly viewed as the initials stamped on his tracksuit. Lennon revealed he has already had informal talks with the Celtic board about new players, something which is another sign of the club's willingness to view Lennon as not simply a short-term option.

"We have talked a bit about it, and looked at players for next season," he said. "But it's nothing very definite."

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There is one player he would be delighted to have at hand – and he wouldn't even need to be signed. Lennon is obviously frustrated by the circumstances which sees Stephen McManus being used to the benefit of Gordon Strachan's Middlesbrough rather than Celtic.

The centre-half, who is currently on-loan at the English Championship club, quickly fell out of favour under Mowbray. But there is no question that Lennon rates the man who succeeded him as Celtic captain.

"Mick's played with me and is captain of a club in the Championship and he won three championships when he was here," he said. "He is the sort of player and personality I do want around the club. I can understand why Gordon would want him but he is our player. I'll have to wait and gauge how he (McManus] is feeling at the end of the season.

"I know he has been pretty consistent down there and he is enjoying his football. But at the end of the day he is our player."

Should Celtic progress to the Scottish Cup final, Lennon's trial run will extend to ten games. He admits he cannot complain about not having been given a chance to stake his claim at Parkhead. "It's more or less a quarter of the season," he noted. "I am in charge of my own destiny, as are the players."

If anything summed up his desire to succeed over the coming weeks it is the promise made to himself. "I'll have no regrets," he pledged.