At the home turn, Lenny colts won't snap on the title blinkers

NEIL LENNON'S name does not figure in the list of the world's 30 highest-paid managers, headed, as you would expect, by Bayern Munich's Pep Guardiola.

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Neil Lennon and Johan Mjallby keep a close watch on their players as they prepare for tonight's clash with Trabzonspor
Neil Lennon and Johan Mjallby keep a close watch on their players as they prepare for tonight's clash with Trabzonspor

The Spaniard's near-£15million salary keeps him well clear of the likes of Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, Marcello Lippi, now in charge of Chinese club Guangzhou, and Arsenal's ever-present Arsene Wenger.

Even West Ham's Sam Allardyce - currently in charge of the bottom club in the Premiership - and boss of Championship team QPR, Harry Redknapp, 'managed' to squeeze enough out of their employers to make the list.

However, while being in charge of Celtic is unlikely ever to bring the sort of financial remuneration which will make the incumbent a candidate for this top 30, Lennon can at least take consolation from the fact his efforts - and those of his players - does earn them the right to keep exclusive company.

The 20-game unbeaten start made to the 2013-14 league campaign - which has seen only six points dropped -means Lennon and Guardiola share the distinction of not having tasted defeat in the quest to retain their championship flags.

In fact, Celtic and Bayern are two of only five top-division clubs yet to suffer a loss in the league, the others being Olympiakos in Greece, Sparta Prague in the Czech Republic and Steaua Bucharest in Romania.

Lennon does not believe his players have received the credit he is sure they deserve for being in this elite club, nor for surging 13 points clear of the chasing pack after, by far, the best start of any league campaign in his four seasons in charge.

Familiarity is breeding contempt, and Celtic's dominance of the domestic game makes it tough to illicit praise from an audience so accustomed to seeing the Hoops on top.

But, the real nub of this unwillingness to compliment a near-perfect job is the absence of any challenge from Ibrox, not the fault of Celtic, but the stick with which critics choose to beat them.

When it was a two-horse race for the title, first was everything, second was nowhere. Now, in what is considered by many to be a walkover before the tapes even go up, no matter the level of consistency, nor how deep into the fixture list Celtic can go without losing their unbeaten record, even making it three-in-a-row will draw little by way of applause from outwith the club.

However, Lennon is adamant that to adopt such an attitude is to betray a lack of knowledge of precisely what it takes to construct the sort of championship season for which they have now laid the foundations.

His side don't even give away goals these days, let alone points, and that takes full focus and dogged determination.

At Paisley last weekend, the defences remained unbreached for the seventh SPFL game in a row.

Add in the Scottish Cup rout of Hearts, and that's eight consecutive domestic games without their net being rippled.

However, the Hoops would have to get through the upcoming games against Motherwell, Hibs, Kilmarnock and St Mirren without conceding to match the all-time record, set by the club 100 years ago.

But the suspicion is, even that might not prompt the credit it is due. It's something which clearly irks Lennon, who said: "If you are looking at the comparison with Rangers (in the league), you only played them four times a season.

"You could go seven or eight games unbeaten with stiffer competition.

"It's all right people saying there is no competition, but there is, and we have to overcome it week in, week out.

"And we have to contend with a massively-heavy schedule of games."

Which is why the Hoops boss has taken up the option of postponing Saturday's scheduled game against Kilmarnock and heading instead to Turkey for rest and relaxation in warmer conditions.

The Antalya Cup, which kicks off tonight with a game against Trabzonspor, is merely the vehicle which has carried them there, and Lennon has made it clear the approach taken in the two matches they play will reflect this.

The real business will resume when they return to Glasgow early next week and begin preparations for the visit of Motherwell a week on Saturday.

It was against Stuart McCall's side the current league clean sheet record began, on December 6, with a 5-0 win at Fir Park.

Fraser Forster simply refuses to be beaten, form which has given Celtic the best goals-against record in the SPFL Premiership. The giant keeper is the first to admit the way his team-mates are defending has had a lot to do with this. Indeed, against St Mirren, he was not called upon to make a single save.

But that was certainly not the case against Partick Thistle a few days earlier.

Maintaining total concentration while ready to spring into action when required is just one area of his game Forster has developed since making the move to Celtic.

The fear among some fans is that, with a place in England's World Cup squad on the line, Forster might hanker for a move to an environment where he would see much more action.

But Lennon scoffs at any notion his No.1 might be getting fed up as he has so little to do.

"I wouldn't think so because he has just beaten a clean sheet record, and I think that is something he should celebrate and be very proud of," said Lennon. "This club is rich in history and he has made his own mark in that history now. It's a really fantastic achievement by all concerned."

Three-in-a-row would be another entry in that litany of achievement.

But, while the bookies will soon be offering to pay out early - the Hoops are odds-on to secure the championship even earlier than last season, when it took them until April 21 - Lennon refuses to consider their race is already run.

While he would be delighted to win the title as early as possible to focus on retaining the Scottish Cup and beginning the preparations for July's opening Champions League qualifiers, he is wary of complacency undermining consistency.

The Hoops boss insisted: "We are not taking it for granted. We have an unbeaten run to protect, and we will do everything we can to preserve that."

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