Boss wants Celtic to keep home fires burning

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Joe Ledley celebrates his winner for Celtic against Jags but fans had little to cheer
Joe Ledley celebrates his winner for Celtic against Jags but fans had little to cheer

well, not quite Paradise, but three-titles-in-a-row.

As the Premiership title race makes the turn for home, Celtic are a distance ahead of the rest of the field, with no sign of waiting around for them to catch up.

The 1-0 win over Partick Thistle confirmed that, even when well below their best, the Hoops are still too good for those trying to take points from them.

That's a sweet 16 wins for the league season, eight consecutive since they were held to a 1-1 draw by Dundee United on November 2.

However, if anyone thinks manager Neil Lennon is content to simply maintain this winning streak, without any nod towards performance or entertainment, they do not know what makes the man 'Tic.

He knows his side is better than what they are currently showing, and he is demanding they do not let their standards - nor their guard - down as they pursue this unbeaten league campaign.

Lennon is also acutely aware of the empty seats which are becoming more and more noticeable around the stadium, even on a day when it stages a Glasgow Derby on a holiday, and with offers of free tickets and free carriage to attract more fans.

The Hoops boss can't do much about enticing more fans to come to the games, but he can do a lot about what they see when they get there.

The run of clean sheets, stretching back domestically seven games, may be acting adversely on the subconscious of his players.

When they take the lead, as they did through Joe Ledley's fine strike seven minutes before the break against Thistle, it could have flicked a switch deep in their individual and collective thinking that the points were in the bag.

It didn't matter that goal came against the run of play, Thistle having made a very bright and adventurous start with movement and guile which exposed some glaring spaces down the flanks of the Celtic defence.

Fraser Forster was required to make a string of good saves in the opening half, which he did in style.

But his team-mates know he is more than capable of this, and it is from this knowledge that the seeds of complacency can be sown.

Lennon would be hugely irked if that was the case because it has no part in his game plan.

Asked if he thought there was any hint of complacency, the manager responded: "I am hopping that is not the case because it is at the other end of the pitch (up front) that we are not doing well enough with the amount of possession we have in games

"Against Thistle, we didn't create too many clear-cut chances, and that was the most disappointing aspect of the game."

It meant the fans were having to fret through the final quarter of the match as Thistle went looking for something to reward their efforts.

Adam Matthews had to boot a Steven Lawless shot clear as he manned a post following a corner which had not been cleared adequately, and Thistle also thought they had a decent claim for a penalty when Ledley and Christie Elliot collided on the edge of the area.

Referee Kevin Clancy told the Jags man he ran into the Welshman, and the chance of a late upset was gone.

But the final whistle to mark Celtic's third 1-0 win in a row was not met with exaltation from those who were still in their seats, nor by the manager.

Lennon said succinctly: "We have to be better.

"The fans showed their disappointment with the performance and I was, too.

"I am delighted with the win and the clean sheet, but we just looked tired.

"There's a lack of spark about us at the minute.

"We did try to change things by bringing in a few players to freshen it up.

"Charlie Mulgrew looked a little bit short, which was understandable. We knew we'd only get an hour out of him after the length of time he has been out injured.

"And Teemu Pukki did okay."

Which would be the rating most of those in Hoops were worth as they brought in 2014 with a whimper rather than a bang.

The mid-season break can't come quickly enough for them, but Lennon is not prepared to allow anyone to simply coast towards their training camp in Turkey next week.

He knows how easy it is to fall into such a series of below-par displays, especially on their own turf, and said: "I've been here before with home games.

"It was either my first or second season where we had three draws at home when, even with the likes of Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes playing at the top of their game, we were hanging on.

"In the end, we didn't get over the winning line in those particular games.

"So people have to take into consideration that, even though we don't have our biggest rivals around (Rangers), they are still competitive games and games which have to be won.

"We are not dropping points, and that for me is a good thing.

"There is no sign of complacency. They just look tired."

With this in mind, Lennon will make changes again for Sunday's game at Paisley before the flight to Turkey where two games in a mini-tournament with Trabzonspor, Galatasaray and Ajax await.

But, by the time they resume SPFL action with a home game against Motherwell on January 18, Lennon expects - indeed, demands - everyone is back to their very best.

Sport

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