No let-up for Celtic boss Neil Lennon as sights are refocused following disappointing Perth draw

ONE target missed, but plenty still within range and within their sights.

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Celtic boss Neil Lennon saw two SPL points slip away at St Johnstone
Celtic boss Neil Lennon saw two SPL points slip away at St Johnstone

That's the consolation for Neil Lennon and his players following Tuesday's draw at Perth.

The Hoops boss had set his side the challenge of bettering last season's points tally when they put 93 on the board to bring the title back to Parkhead for the first time in four years.

A difficult start to this campaign, when they struggled to focus on domestic matters while also playing Champions League qualifiers and group stage games, meant that they were going to require an almost perfect second half of the season to get to 94 points or more.

But a seven-match winning streak since the turn of year kept them on course – until Nigel Hasselbaink popped up on Tuesday to score the goal which saw two points left at McDiarmid Park.

Now, the best Celtic can achieve is 92 points, if they win all of the 11 games remaining.

Given the fact they are 19 clear, while still involved in the Champions League, it is a commendable effort.

But good is never good enough for Lennon, who wants his players to achieve the maximum they can every time they play and in every competition they enter.

So, even though the title is all-but secured, and the points target can no longer be achieved, there will be no easing off by the manager or the men who work under him.

The Hoops boss is already planning on getting back into the winning groove, and to this end he said: "I think we will make changes this weekend for the game against Dundee to freshen things up again.

"We have a big game at Motherwell a week tonight, and that will be in my thinking when I pick my team for Sunday.

"I don't want to overdo it in terms of changes. But there are players who are itching to play, and we will look at giving some of them the game time they need."

Lennon is acutely aware that, while the Hoops have their own targets, collectively and individually, the teams they are playing against, almost without exception, have top six places to aim for, and, possibly, Europa League spots.

He will not leave himself open to any accusations that his team selection made it easier for one team than it did for another.

But when you consider he fielded almost a second string at Inverness a couple of weeks ago – which included nine changes from his previous team – and they still ran out 3-1 winners against what was then the second-placed club in the SPL, any combination of players Lennon elects to put out has the potential to get the job done.

"I think we showed again on Tuesday, with the team selection and the way we played, that we have every respect for the sides we are facing," insisted the Parkhead boss.

"We have a good squad, a good team and good players, and we showed that against St Johnstone, particularly in the first half."

He added: "St Johnstone can count themselves very fortunate that they got away with a result."

The fact that Lennon is so disappointed to have dropped a couple of points, even though his team moved further ahead in the title race courtesy of Motherwell losing at home to Dundee United, is an accurate indication of how keen he is to get the job done.

It is still only February, but it has already been a very long season for the Hoops – 44 games played – and the business end has been a long time coming.

They kicked off their campaign on August 1 with the opening Champions League qualifier against Helsinki, and it is has been a constant round of high-intensity games ever since.

The winter break was a bonus, but they have quickly returned to the grind of three games a week.

It's a consequence of competing in so many different competitions, and it ensures Celtic play far more games than any other club in Scotland.

With the calibre of men in the squad, there is also a high number of international matches to factor in – the next double-header is under a month away – and travel to and from these games can also be a strain.

But that's why such a strong squad has been assembled, and Lennon does not seek nor expect any sympathy.

It is his job to utilise this group of players, and to get the tactics and personnel right for every game they play.

On Tuesday, he elected to test their flexibility by starting with a 3-4-3, and explained: "We wanted to play that formation and that team against St Johnstone because we knew the pitch would be a gluepot and that we would need to be physical as well.

"So, we went with a big team, with the three centre-halves, and the likes of Victor Wanyama and Lassad. I thought we needed to be strong, and that turned out to be the case."

The transition from Champions League football to domestic football is tough enough.

But Celtic are also having to contend with playing on barren, bumpy, gooey surfaces, like the ones at McDiarmid Park, Pittodrie, and Inverness, then returning to the green swathe which awaits them at Parkhead.

That will be the case again this weekend when Dundee are the visitors, then it's off to Fir Park in midweek for a game which could hasten the day Celtic retain the championship.

Lennon believes his international band of Bhoys have the mindset to cope with all the different challenges which playing in this country at this time of year throws up.

He certainly won't brook any excuses and expects adaptability to be part of their make-up.

When their passing game is on, he wants them to use it. When it is not, more direct football should be within their repertoire.

Lennon said: "These are the challenges which are thrown up when you play for this club, and you have to get on with it."

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