Neil Lennon keeping calm as Celtic move 10 points clear

Steven Gerrard questions Rangers’ ‘bottle’ after their 2-1 defeat away to Kilmarnock

Celtic manager Neil Lennon with Olivier Ntcham during his side’s 5-0 win over Hearts. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

Celtic manager Neil Lennon with Olivier Ntcham during his side’s 5-0 win over Hearts. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

 

Neil Lennon played down the significance of Celtic’s 5-0 win over Hearts which took the Hoops 10 points clear of Rangers at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership.

Olivier Ntcham opened the scoring for the home side on the half-hour mark with a drive, with second-half goals from Christopher Jullien, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and Jozo Simunovic completing the trouncing.

Jambos substitute Marcel Langer was shown a straight red by Willie Collum late on for a challenge on Hoops skipper Scott Brown.

With Rangers losing 2-1 at Kilmarnock — a result cheered to the rafters by the home fans — the Hoops went further clear of their Old Firm rivals.

Although Steven Gerrard’s side have a game in hand, the momentum is clearly with the champions who have won all eight matches this year and are on course for their ninth successive title.

Hearts’ Marcel Langer is shown a red card for a tackle on Scott Brown. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA
Hearts’ Marcel Langer is shown a red card for a tackle on Scott Brown. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

“It might give them a bit of confidence but that’s about it,” said Celtic boss Lennon, who described Langer’s lunge at Brown as “horrendous and could have done serious damage to Scott.”

“We have a tough game on Sunday at Pittodrie. We are taking absolutely nothing for granted.

“The players know there is a long way to go and there will be twist and turns as we go along.

“We just need to concentrate on every individual game as it comes along. They were magnificent tonight.

“Their desire, hunger to play, score goals, run; everything you want from a team I got tonight. It was an empathetic victory.”

Meanwhile Gerrard fears Celtic are closing in on a ninth successive title after questioning his Rangers squad’s bottle.

The Ibrox outfit started the year looking to use December’s Celtic Park victory as a springboard to a run at the championship.

But barely six weeks later it appears all hope is gone after their 2-1 defeat to Kilmarnock saw the Light Blues slip 10 points behind their bitter rivals.

Gers still have a game in hand and two Old Firm derbies to turn the situation around but Gerrard confessed his team have failed to handle the pressure to halt the Hoops reign of dominance.

Rangers grabbed a first-half lead through a Scott Arfield rocket but, just like last season when the wheels came off at Rugby Park after the winter break, they surrendered the points with a shambolic second-half display as goals from Stephen O’Donnell and Eamonn Brophy sealed Killie’s win.

“In the second half, we never handled the heat or the pressure,” admitted Gerrard. “We never played like a team that was trying to fight to remain in a title race, a team that was trying to come away from here with three points.

“The reality is the opposition (Celtic) are in the driving seat. That’s down to two things — their form and us not being good enough since the winter break.

Steven Gerrard’s Rangers were beaten 2-1 at Kilmarnock. Photograph: Steve Welsh/PA
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers were beaten 2-1 at Kilmarnock. Photograph: Steve Welsh/PA

“But I’m responsible for that. I put this group together. I coach them, they are my tactics and decisions. So I’m not going to sit here and try and force any blame in any other direction than myself.

“It’s disappointing, it’s frustrating at the moment. We keep going, we keep fighting and see where we are.

“But on the evidence of the second half tonight, it’s very worrying for me right now.”

Gerrard admitted his team would face questions over their bottle after losing to Hearts last month and his view has not changed.

He said: “On the evidence of the second half, yes. We came here tonight and it was a pressure game in a stadium where you know you are going to be under the cosh or under the heat.

“The reality is that we couldn’t cope tonight.

“I had every belief and confidence when I reflected on the first six months of the season that I had enough to put at least a stronger fight up at this stage. But at the moment it’s looking extremely tough.

“The last four or five weeks — or how many weeks it is since we came back — the consistency seems to have disappeared, which is a worry.”

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