NEIL LENNON has two crucial Premiership games to win before he can turn his attention to the champions’ crucial confrontation at Ibrox on January 2.
Celtic maintained their focus in the 2-0 victory over Betfred League Cup conquerors Ross County at Parkhead last night where David Turnbull and Leigh Griffiths were on target.
The sights are now on Hamilton Accies on Boxing Day and Dundee United on Wednesday as the Hoops bring down the curtain on a rollercoaster 2020.
The pressure is on the champions as they bid to claim a historic tenth successive title and they travel to Govan in the knowledge Steven Gerrard’s outfit are favourites to complete the derby double after their win at Parkhead in October when a strangely off-the-pace home side didn’t lay a glove on their opponents.
However, as author Alex Gordon highlights in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, a tribute to the club’s extraordinary 51 crowns in their glorious history, Lennon experienced something very similar last season.
READ ALL ABOUT IT…Alex Gordon’s latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’.
In an edited extract, Alex, who has written fifteen Celtic books, writes in his latest tome:
Skyscraper netminder Fraser Forster made his second debut for the club in a 3-1 Premiership success over Hearts at Parkhead on August 25 and now all the attention centred on the first Glasgow derby of the season against Steven Gerrard’s much-vaunted and apparently ‘rejuvenated’ Rangers at Ibrox. The foes went into the confrontation sharing top spot, equal on nine points although the champions had a superior goal difference of plus nine.
Gerrard had strengthened his squad in the summer and had been allowed to spend £7million on winger Ryan Kent, the frustrated pugilist, after his season-long loan from Liverpool which had been deemed by some to have been impressive.
Interestingly, midfielder Sheyi Ojo, another from the Anfield academy, arrived on a temporary deal and declared before a ball had been kicked in anger: “I think Rangers are the best team in the league. It is just about us proving it.” The exuberance of youth can often be confused with the ignorance of the novice.
Anyway, London-born Ojo, who had spent the previous season on a year-long switch at Reims in France, and his new team-mates would get the opportunity to back up his fanciful boasts, founded on fresh air, in front of their own supporters – apart from eight hundred followers from across the river – in Govan on Sunday, September 1.
The bookmakers made the home side favourites which, if they were proved correct, would see Rangers leapfrog the champions into the unfamiliar number one position. All sorts of bullish promises had been expressed, all sorts of random threats delivered.
Reality has a habit of gatecrashing fantasy. Odsonne Edouard, with grace and ease, raced onto a threaded pass from Mikey Johnston, drew Allan McGregor from his line and caressed the ball under him for the opening goal just after the half-hour mark. It was no more than Celtic deserved.
Lennon was then called upon to demonstrate his emergency tactical know-how when Nir Bitton, who had been linking up encouragingly with Christopher Jullien in central defence, was forced to limp off in the sixty-sixth minute. It meant a reshuffle with Hatem Abd Elhamed moving into the middle and Moritz Bauer coming on at right-back for his first appearance.
At that stage, with twenty-four minutes still to play, Celtic’s back four comprised of Bauer, Elhamed, Jullien and Boli Bolingoli, a quartet who had arrived in the summer and who had never previously played alongside each other until that moment. Behind them was goalkeeper Fraser Forster, performing in his second game for the club in five years.
No matter. Celtic were in control and that was emphasised when Jonny Hayes, who had come on for Johnston in the eighty-fourth minute, raced seventy yards to knock in the second goal after McGregor had blocked his original strike. It was party time in a corner of Ibrox.
At the final whistle, Neil Lennon strode purposefully across the pitch to join in the celebrations. He blew kisses to the cameras; no words were required.
Afterwards, in the confines of the Ibrox media room, he was afforded the opportunity to give his verdict: “Coming into this game, we were an afterthought. It was all about the opposition and what they were going to do to us.
“We stayed strong and played brilliantly. We came here to win. It was an outstanding performance. It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. Myself, the board, the players have all been written off so early. But you don’t believe the noise, you don’t believe the hype and we’ve come and performed an outstanding masterclass on how to play a derby here.
“We were on the front foot from the start. We dominated the first-half, weren’t really in any trouble and Allan McGregor kept it from being three or four. Maybe, just maybe, people will now cut us a bit of slack and respect us.”
Every syllable delivered by the Celtic manager had been bolted in by a rivet.
Alex, a veteran of fifteen Celtic books and a former Sports Editor at the best-selling Sunday Mail, recalls the inside stories on many of these momentous occasions.
* ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’ celebrates the club’s remarkable fifty-one league championships in their glorious history. To order a copy – and get a FREE book, ‘Seville: The Celtic Movement’ – please go to: ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’.
It’s a fabulous double treat for the Celtic support.
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