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Lennon lapping up Celtic pressure

Neil Lennon claims he “really enjoyed” the recent and deepest crisis of his managerial career.

The Celtic boss had contemplated the implications of defeat by Kilmarnock at Rugby Park a fortnight ago, as he made his way up the tunnel at the interval 3-0 down and with the prospect of falling 13 points behind league leaders Rangers.

However, an inspirational half-time team talk saw the visitors storm back for a point and, with St Mirren scoring a late equaliser against the champions at Ibrox, the pressure on the Ulsterman was alleviated.

The Hoops have subsequently drawn 1-1 in their Europa League Group I game in Rennes and beaten Aberdeen 2-1 in the SPL before thrashing Hibernian 4-1 at Easter Road on Wednesday to book their place in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final.

Celtic remain 10 points adrift of the Ibrox men but in much better fettle ahead of today’s visit of Hibs in the SPL.

Lennon insists he thrived during his tricky period.

“I've really enjoyed it, believe it or not,” he said. “It was a different period in my managerial career that I had to get through and I enjoyed that challenge.

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“All managers get tested and it's a question of your own character, how you handle it and how you get through it. I don't really take notice of the criticism.

“I am aware of it. I don't take it personally but you wouldn't be a human being if it didn't irk you a little bit. Results being the way they were, you are open to criticism but I knew that anyway.

“I thought we started well against Kilmarnock and then we conceded three goals in 10 or 15 minutes. That has not happened to me before and that was a real test for me and, on the back of less than great results, I was asking a lot of questions of myself.

“I got the response I was looking for at Kilmarnock and since then there has been a gradual improvement, not only in performances but in the spirit of the squad. I'm not saying we are through the woods yet, there is still a lot of work to be done.

“I have enjoyed seeing the team try to turn things around and I’ve enjoyed that difficult side of it.”

The former Celtic skipper was not surprised by the level of scrutiny he was put under.

“It is the nature of the beast,” he said. “You are analysed in every facet of the game like selections, tactics, in every game.

“There is not a minute of the day when you don't analyse it.

“You go to bed at night thinking about it, get up in the morning thinking about it.

“I'm not saying I am through it, there is a gap to close on the leaders but I believe we can do that.”

Lennon showed he had lost none of the passion on Wednesday night when he squared up to fellow Ulsterman Ivan Sproule on the touchline after the Hibs player had clashed with Hoops midfielder Beram Kayal.

“My demeanour has probably been a bit more calm this year,” Lennon said. “But I didn't like the follow through on the tackle and I reacted to that, it was my natural instinct.

“It's nothing to do with Ivan Sproule, it's just that I will voice my opinion on any tackle I see.

“The players have passion in abundance and I think they look after themselves very well as a team.”

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