Celtic up for title fight
Celtic 1 Hearts 0: Neil Lennon senses a stronger mentality in his Celtic squad after their bid to catch Clydesdale Bank Premier League leaders Rangers continued with a 1-0 win over Hearts at Parkhead on Saturday.
The Hoops' title challenge suffered at this time last year with home draws against Dundee United, Inverness and Kilmarnock.
And the loss of two points looked on the cards against the Gorgie men until Victor Wanyama calmed the increasing nervousness among the fans in the 72nd minute with his first goal for the club, a fine strike from distance.
Two minutes from time, however, the Kenya international conceded a penalty for handball but Fraser Forster saved Eggert Jonsson's spot-kick to extend Celtic's winning run in the SPL to six games and keep them four points behind their Old Firm rivals.
“We had the three draws this time last year and that could easily have happened here, which would have been a bit of a blow,” said Lennon.
“So maybe there is a bit of an improvement in the mentality.
“You can't always expect the players to win four, five or six nil and the way the game was going we just needed a wee bit of energy and drive and we got that second half from James Forrest and Scott Brown.
“And I thought Georgios Samaras came on to a good game as well.
“It is another clean sheet as well so I am absolutely delighted.”
The Lurgan man now turns his attention to the crunch Europa League Group I game against Udinese in Italy on Thursday night where victory is required to get through to the knockout stages.
Lennon will be without defender Glenn Loovens who stayed inside at the interval yesterday with a hamstring injury but he believes his defence has provided the basis for recent success.
“Daniel Majstorovic has played very well and I think he is in a good place at the minute,” said the former Celtic skipper.
“The goalkeeper has played very well of late, he looks assured.
“Even though he has relatively little to do in the last couple of games, his handling has been good, his kicking has been good and he has given the back four a lot more confidence.
“Beram Kayal and Wanyama give the protection from midfield
and we have Brown coming back in as well after injury. We look a more solid unit.”
Wanyama, buoyed by his first Celtic goal which he described as the best of his career, insists the Hoops will travel to Italy with confidence.
“We are going to go there with the same spirit,” said the 20-year-old, who started in midfield before reverting to defence after the break when midfielder Brown replaced Loovens.
“We are confident, we are playing well and we are looking forward to the three points.”
The Hearts players put up a decent fight despite their on-going financial problems.
PFA Scotland, the players' union, urged the Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football Association during the week to intervene over the continual non-payment of salaries.
The Gorgie club continued their general media ban and, in his interview with HeartsTV, manager Paulo Sergio did not address the players' obvious concerns.
“I just want to say I'm very proud of the boys and of the way they played,” he said.
“The team was tactically perfect, we didn't leave any space for Celtic to create chances.
“We were well organised and I thought Celtic were nervous.
“We couldn't do anything about the goal we lost. I can't blame anyone — it was a great goal.
“We have to take the good things and keep going. We played a good game and the supporters can be proud.”