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Neil Lennon surprised at how quickly Hoops have closed gap but 'nothing is won in December'

By Ronnie Esplin

Neil Lennon warned his Celtic side about "dangerous" Rangers ahead of tonight's Old Firm clash at Parkhead.

The Hoops' 2-1 win over Kilmarnock at the weekend extended their winning run in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League to eight games to take them to within one point of their city rivals at the top of the table.

At one stage the gap between the two clubs was 15 points - albeit Celtic had two games in hand - but the champions have slipped up in recent weeks and their lacklustre 2-1 defeat at St Mirren on Christmas Eve gives Lennon's men the opportunity to lead the table going into 2012.

Celtic head into the match as favourites but the Parkhead boss was keen to dampen down the prospect of anyone in the Hoops camp taking victory for granted.

"Rangers are always dangerous opposition, regardless of the situation or the timing of the game," he said. "So I don't think the mentality of either team will change going into the game. We know if we win we go top and our focus is on winning. If that's the rewards then so be it.

"We want to make our home advantage count and keep the winning run going, it's very important to the players.

"We are in a good vein of form but we are playing our biggest rivals and there is not much between the teams at the minute.

"Our form has been slightly better than Rangers' but they are the champions and they won the last Old Firm game so I don't think there is much in it."

The Northern Irishman has been surprised at how quickly his side have whittled away Rangers' lead but was quick to point out that it can go the other way again before the season ends.

"I always believed we would close the gap but I didn't realise it would be so quickly, but that is testament to the players' consistency," said Lennon.

"But even though I am a young manager, I've been in football a long time and nothing is won in October and nothing is won in December.

"There is a huge amount of football to be played over the next four or five months.

"We have been looking at one game at a time and trying to eat away at the lead.

"We have done that but we are hoping to go from strength to strength.

"I think momentum is important as long as you don't take complacency into the game and I'm sure the players won't, because they know what's at stake.

"We have had our rough period and it wasn't nice and it wasn't nice for me but we have found our consistency and it is our job to make sure that it continues and I'm hoping we can maintain our winning run for a bit longer.

"It's just another league game that happens to be Rangers at home.

"It will whet the appetite of the supporters but we will prepare as we have done for every other game of late."

Lennon understands why Rangers have appealed Lee McCulloch's red card to have him available but is just glad he has not had to deal with any major disciplinary problems of his own this season.

"I can understand why - he will be available for the game tomorrow night.

"I am hoping my own players don't get themselves involved in those sort of situations.

"I am delighted with them. They have been exemplary this year under difficult circumstances at times.

"We have had a couple of red cards but we have told the players that discipline is vital.

"It is always important to have 11 players on the pitch and that was hammered into me by Martin O'Neill, Gordon Strachan and even Dario Gradi in my younger years, so discipline is very important."

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