Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes his players had extra motivation in their 2-0 win over Rangers after claiming his team were “written off” in the build-up.
Rangers went into the Ibrox clash as favourites in the eyes of all the major bookmakers after both teams won their opening three Ladbrokes Premiership games and qualified for the Europa League group stages.
But the hosts struggled to create chances and Celtic nearly added to Odsonne Edouard’s 32nd-minute opener several times in the closing quarter before Jonny Hayes netted on the break in stoppage-time.
Lennon and the Celtic board came under criticism after their Champions League exit against Cluj and the former captain admitted the victory had given him as much satisfaction as any Old Firm triumph.
“Everyone had written us off,” he said. “The bookies had Rangers favourites and I asked you on Friday: ‘Why?’ And I think we proved we are still going to have a big say in the title race, that’s for sure.
“We took it as a slight on us. We were very motivated, we were hungry, we had great belief about us. And that takes a lot. You can’t listen to the noise surrounding the game, you have to stick to what you believe in.
“We were an afterthought coming into this fixture, I was an afterthought, my board were an afterthought. It was all about the opposition and what they were going to do to us.
“We didn’t listen to any of you, we stayed strong, we played brilliantly.”
Lennon hailed the performances of players he felt had been singled out for criticism – summer signings Boli Bolingoli and Christopher Jullien, plus skipper Scott Brown.
“The personality and character and strength of the team was evident when everyone, including some of our own supporters, had written us all off,” he added
“You are the ones who are writing all the stories, you are the so-called experts, the pundits giving your opinions on radios or TV or in the papers. You want us to fail because we have been so dominant.
“But we are not prepared to give up our title just yet, and neither are the players and neither are the board.”
Lennon planned to play on the front foot after learning from Celtic’s second Ibrox defeat last season, even to the point of kicking the ball out deep in home territory from kick-off.
“We took the game to Rangers,” he said. “We dominated the start of the game.
“The kick-off, everyone might have been laughing at it, but we wanted to be playing in their half, which we didn’t do in the corresponding fixture. Two minutes of passing the ball about at the back, we conceded a free-kick and we were a goal down.
“This is a derby, you have to fight fire with fire, quell the crowd, and we did that to perfection.”
Rangers manager Steven Gerrard understood criticism would come his way after dropping top goalscorer Alfredo Morelos and starting without natural width, but he felt his players had failed to perform.
“I went for freshness, I went for Jermain Defoe,” he said. “I picked the same team besides Joe Aribo that done the job so effectively eight weeks ago.
“I understand and accept it if people want to point fingers my way, of course I’m part of it. But I picked the team I thought would get a stranglehold on the game.
“I picked good players and a system that worked before, and I expected more from the players, and it didn’t come.
“We were narrow twice here and won, and even when we made changes to get width, we still haven’t had enough quality or created enough to get back in the game.”
Gerrard added: “Unfortunately across the board we weren’t good enough, only really Jon Flanagan can be proud of his performance.
“You can’t expect to beat a good team or win an Old Firm when the majority of your players are off it.
“It was a poor performance all round and I’m part of that. We will analyse ourselves and we will take a bit of criticism, which is OK, we will be man enough to accept it.”