Armed for a cold feat: Lenny says top guns can fire in Arbroath

The simple sounding task of arriving at Gayfield on a mid-December evening represents a threatening challenge in itself.

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Celtic will be bracing themselves for the elements at Gayfield tomorrow
Celtic will be bracing themselves for the elements at Gayfield tomorrow

But for the Celtic players accustomed to training in Lennoxtown's micro-climate – where the sun can be found glistening off the purple, green and brown Campsie Hills while your feet are frozen to the spot and the wind cuts through your gloves, snood and three layers of training tops – it wasn't difficult to get perfectly prepared, on a physical level at least.

Getting ready mentally for tomorrow's William Hill Scottish Cup replay against the Red Lichties though could be another matter altogether.

Attitude will be key, and Neil Lennon will be studying faces as his squad step off their coach at the Irn-Bru Second Division club's ground right on the edge of the North Sea.

He will want to see who is perturbed by the surroundings, the pitch, the elements, and who looks ready to roll their sleeves up – metaphorically that is – and steer the club safely through to the fifth round of the tournament.

The 1-1 draw at Parkhead should have served as a vital reminder to any who needed it that nothing can be taken for granted, even given the fact Celtic are in the last 16 of the Champions League and Arbroath are in the middle of the third tier of Scottish football.

Most of Lennon's squad have encountered a David v Goliath situation in their careers, and so they must know what is required to avoid a shock.

At the top of the list is attitude, and the Parkhead gaffer is confident they will have the right sort in place to get past this potential banana skin.

Lennon will offer them the benefit of his experience in a long playing career which saw him thrown into many similar situations. But he admits that, even for him, Gayfield will be an entirely new experience.

"I've never been to a game there but we have had Arbroath well covered and, of course, got a good look at them when we played them at Celtic Park," said the Hoops boss, underlining his methodical approach.

Lennon came in for criticism for making so many changes from his strongest line-up for the first game against Paul Sheerin's side.

But given that it fell in the middle of key Champions League qualifiers, that selection was understandable.

It should have also been good enough, if even a fraction of the chances created by the team had been converted.

Tomorrow, though, Arbroath are likely to face the repercussions and the full might of the SPL champions.

Lennon said: "We will go with a strong team and make sure we progress.

"But it's going to be difficult. It will be another cup final for Arbroath, so we are going to respect them and respect the competition.

"We want to proceed in all the competitions we are in, and the game tomorrow will be no different."

When you compare the squads available to the respective managers, the cup tie really should be no sort of contest.

But using that measure, you could also argue it should not have come to a replay.

With poor results in the cup against the likes of Inverness and Ross County in mind, Lennon is wise to be wary.

He said: "I know from over the years that anything can happen.

"Yes, it will be cold. It might be windy. It might be a difficult pitch to play on. So we will have to pick a team to suit the conditions as well."

December was always going to bring with it a genuine test for Lennon and his players, given the number of games scheduled – eight – and the diversity of competitions.

The Champions League last 16 spot has been tucked away. The lead in the SPL has been extended. Now the men in green and white must turn their heads to cup duty.

Looking at the tasks to be ticked off before the new year is ushered in, Lennon said: "We have a heavy schedule, but I want to win the rest of the games this month after drawing the first against Arbroath.

"With the victories over Spartak and Kilmarnock, that's two out of two since then. So far, so good."

The extra bonus is that James Forrest will soon be back to increase the feel-good factor at the club.

The winger has been out with a hamstring and neurological problem since October, and his pace and panache have been sorely missed.

Lennon said: "James will be back before Christmas."

By then, Celtic will know their opponents in the knockout stage of the Champions League, and next week's draw is already commanding the attention of many.

However, Lennon is demanding his players retain full focus on the games they are currently playing.

While the Group G ties were ongoing, and the thrilling climax built, this proved a tough ask in the Celtic dressing room.

But the Hoops boss saw much to please him at Rugby Park on Saturday in their first match after clinching that lucrative last 16 spot.

The football they played, and the goals they scored in the 3-1 win, confirmed normal service has been resumed as they open a gap at the top of the table.

Lennon wants his men to push on and said: "Psychologically, it is good. We are three clear with a game in hand (against Dundee United), so the rest have to win to stay in touch now.

"We still have to do better at home and win our games there, starting with this weekend against St Mirren.

"But if we play like we did at Kilmarnock, it is going to take a good team to stop us."

Not that Lennon is taking anything for granted.

The way his comments about giving the players some time off towards the end of the season, in order to have them in the best condition for the three qualifying rounds of the Champions League, gave the impression the Hoops boss was of the opinion that Scotland's sole entry spot to the elite competition was already in the bag.

Lennon is keen to make it clear that is not the case, and insisted: "I did say, IF that was the case, but that doesn't seem to have been included in the reports.

"What I did say was, if we are in a position to be able to do that, with the way things are going –I'm looking at the qualifiers in July – then I will look to maybe give players an earlier rest.

"I can't look that far ahead. But it was a question I was asked and which I answered in the right way."

Indeed, with Lennon currently aiming to restore the Scottish dominance of Celtic, he need look no further than tomorrow's tie at Gayfield for now.

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