PLAYING a reserve side against Cluj cost Celtic around £500k, ended the impressive run of consecutive wins and dented the Scottish co-efficient but for Neil Lennon all that was a price worth paying. Unlike some of us he wasn’t too bothered that it meant that Lazio were out, as it turned out we could have beaten the Romanians and the nasty Romans would still have been shown the door to European Competition give their own defeat in Rennes.
No it’s got nothing to do with a loathing for Lazio. Instead Neil Lennon is eyeing the BIG prize – NINE in a Row and has challenged his troops to end the year with a run of league wins that will GUARANTEE that Celtic go into the New Year AT LEAST EIGHT points clear of the Rangers.
That will be an impressive, significant and probably decisive lead and it will certainly mean that it will be a blue, blue start to 2020 for the Govanites. Chris Sutton pointed out the blindingly obvious yesterday when he talked about Steven Gerrard.s rather unimpressive record in Scottish football despite the hype and the new contract that is rumoured to be worth an extra £10k a week for the former Liverpool captain.
So the price worth paying in losing in Cluj is clear. Neil Lennon wants at least an eight point lead by the final whistle on 29 December when the Rangers come calling to Celtic Park.
“Extending our lead over the coming games is the incentive. We want to win them all. It’s no easy task and we’ll try to take them one at a time.
“It’s a big week. Hibs, Hearts away, Aberdeen at home — they are three really important games.
“Hibs are up first and they had a great win at the weekend so they’ll come in buoyant,” Lenny told the Media as reported by Scottish Sun.
“But we’re buoyant as well. We must maintain our energy and focus. We are back to five big games we want to win and maintain our consistency at domestic level, which has been obviously very good.
“I hope we can maintain that because we are getting pushed.”
Celtic make the short trip to Paisley to play St Mirren on Boxing Day before the Glasgow Derby on 29 December. And despite the result in Romania on Thursday night there are plenty of positives that the Celtic manager is able to take from that game, in terms of the youngsters like Scott Robertson making an impressive debut and the solid performance of skipper for the night Olivier Ntcham. Resting first team regulars – many of whom didn’t even travel, will hopefully provide a bonus in terms of freshness starting this afternoon.
“I’m absolutely happy to put Europe to the side now. We had to play the fixture and we used the squad and that was the right thing to do.
“Leaving the boys behind, I think some of them will have trained on Thursday and been off on Friday and that will stand them in good stead.
“I didn’t want to run the risk of taking any chances in Cluj. Their attitude is brilliant.
“I singled out Olivier Ntcham, I thought he was just wonderful. I liked Nir Bitton a lot, Mikey Johnston showed real flashes. For the likes of Leigh Griffiths and Scott Sinclair to get 90 minutes into their legs was fantastic for them.
“We know Karamoko (Dembele) is a real talent and we want to keep him motivated and keep him around the first-team squad.”