NEIL LENNON reckons “The Big Man might have been looking down on us” as Jozo Simunovic headed the only goal of the game against Kilmarnock at an emotionally-charged Parkhead yesterday.
The Hoops edged closer to their eighth successive Scottish crown with a hard-fought triumph that left them 12 points ahead of Steven Gerrard’s team who play Aberdeen at Ibrox this afternoon.
If the Glasgow side fail to win, the flag will flutter over Paradise in the east end of Glasgow yet again.
The game against a stubborn Killie outfit was deadlocked at 0-0 when the champions won a corner-kick on the right wing. Callum McGregor flighted it into the box where it was blocked and Tom Rogic managed to return the ball to his midfield partner.
This time the Scotland international sent his cross swirling towards the back post and Simunovic, wearing the No.5 shirt shirt, leapt superbly to snap his neck muscles and make perfect contact with the ball from 10 yards.
He directed his header down to keeper Daniel Bachmann’s right-hand post and the Austrian’s valiant attempt to claw the ball away was just too late.
Uncannily, the timing of the goal was exactly 67 minutes and seven seconds. Billy McNeill’s finest moment in the No.5 shorts of his beloved Celtic was the historic European Cup victory over Inter Milan in Lisbon in 1967.
And the influence of the club legend, who passed away on Monday at the age of 79, was felt throughout the ground before, during and after yesterday’s triumph.
Interim manager Lennon, speaking to Celtic TV, said: “It’s amazing when you think about it. That was a perfect way to win the game, I suppose under the circumstances, with everything that’s happened this week and today.
“The Big Man might have been looking down on us when we needed a goal.
“Jozo has been outstanding for me since I’ve come in. I want my centre-halves to attack the ball more and he’s doing that on a regular basis.”
Lennon added: “I’m pleased with the win, pleased with the second-half and it’s a great three points. They did overcome an obstinate hurdle.
“We are comfortable in our league position, but there is so much expectation on these players at the minute for what they’ve created and achieved – and there is so much asked of them all the time.
“They are human beings and they can’t always play scintillating football. Right now, we are grinding. I get that.
“But we are grinding in the right way. We are winning games and keeping clean sheets.”