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Celtic can’t afford to write off Rangers: Lennon

By Jim Gracey

Celtic manager Neil Lennon wants his players to enjoy their return to the top of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League table but warned them not to write off Rangers.

Joe Ledley's second-half winner in the Old Firm game at Parkhead on Wednesday night saw the Hoops leapfrog their city rivals by two points at the top of the table.

Celtic's ninth SPL victory in a row completed a remarkable turnaround for the home side, who were 15 points behind the champions only last month, albeit with two games in hand.

However, the Parkhead boss is keen to ensure that there will not be a problem with complacency creeping into the club in 2012.

“I think we have come a long

way in a short space of time,” Lennon said.

“But Rangers are a top team and have been for a few years. They have a great mentality, so we have to be very wary.

“They are a very good side, and that gets overlooked in all the criticism that surrounds both teams at times.

“We have to try and maintain our consistency. But this win will give the players a huge lift in terms of confidence.

“And, of course, the feelgood factor around the club will be here for a while.”

While Celtic have rehabilitated themselves in recent weeks, problems seem to be coming to the fore at Ibrox.

Rangers have taken just 10 points from a possible 21 during the time Celtic have been on their winning streak.

The spotlight is now on Ally McCoist and his ability to lift the Govan club out of their slumber but Lennon is focused on building on his side's good recent domestic form.

He said: “We want to kick on, and instead of people putting pressure on us, we want to try to put pressure on everybody else.”

Former Celtic striker Andy Walker feels the battling qualities Lennon showed as a player have helped him deal with that pressure and turn it on its head.

Before Celtic rejuvenated their title charge with a 2-1 win at then second-placed Motherwell on November 6, Lennon had been facing mounting crit

icism as his team struggled to put a run of wins together.

Lennon has admitted he could have been considering his future weeks before that Fir Park clash, if Kenny Shiels’ Kilmarnock had added to their three-goal lead over Celtic at Rugby Park.

Instead his side fought back for a point and they have continued to claw their way back from a difficult position, a trait former Bolton star Walker believes has been inspired by the character of former Celtic captain Lennon.

Walker said: “When you see those pictures of Neil Lennon at Rugby Park, three goals down, well behind in the league at that time, out of Europe, with a few bad results, he looks shell-shocked.

“But to be fair to him he has now shown the qualities that he showed as a player.

“He has shown great grit, determination, fighting qualities to get back into it, and a never-say-die attitude.

“And one or two players, of course, have stepped up to the mark and it looks as though Celtic should be able to go from strength to strength.

“One or two players are coming back to full fitness, none more so than (Emilio) Izaguirre, who was the player of the year last season.

“So that can only help Celtic as they go into the last few months of the season.”

Winger James Forrest admits going ahead in the title race for the first time this season, bar a few hours in August, is significant.

The 20-year-old, named man of the match on Wednesday, said: “It's a massive boost going into the new year. Hopefully we can stay top of the table.

“That's nine victories in a row now and we really feel the spirit in the team is getting back to where we were last season.

“Hopefully we can go on and win it now.”

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