Ton weight on the mind for Celtic

THE champions can become 21st Century Bhoys, and confirm the progress Neil Lennon demanded before a ball was kicked this season has been achieved.

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Neil Lennon wants to better the 93 points his side got two years ago
Neil Lennon wants to better the 93 points his side got two years ago

While the cups have been a disappointment, and the Champions League did not reach last season's dizzy heights, what Celtic have achieved in the defence of their league title has ensured the manager has kept a smile on his face.

Three more wins will take them over the 100-point mark for the second time in their history.

Lennon was part of the only Hoops team to do it so far, back in 2001-02.

And now, with his players a massive 27 points clear of second-placed Aberdeen - who are this weekend's opponents at Parkhead - Celtic are homing in on this special target.

Lennon was disappointed his side could only amass 79 points last season, the lowest-ever winning total in the history of the 38-game SPL.

Coping with the challenge presented by their first venture deep into the Champions League was a major distraction for this group of players.

But, this time around, the focus has been fixed, and the result is there for all to see in the league table.

A campaign with just one defeat - against the Dons at the end of February - has pushed them onto 92 points already, and Lennon reflected: "It would be pleasing to better the 93 points we got two years ago.

"That would be a good marker for us going into next season because we always want to progress.

"But, if we could reach 100 points, of course that would be even better for us.

"I'm not saying it's at the forefront of our minds, but I think it's certainly on our minds.

"We are also looking at scoring 100 goals. We're on 91 now after the six at the weekend and three against Motherwell.

"To get nine in our last three games is still a big ask because we are playing some really good teams who have plenty to play for.

"But we will give it a go."

Lennon was reminded just how potent the strike force he has put together can be as they cut through an Inverness side who, at the start of the season, grabbed a point at Parkhead.

"What pleased me most about getting six against Inverness is that the fans went away really happy," said the manager.

"They were thoroughly entertained, which is what we want."

Aberdeen, Celtic's next opponents on Saturday, have proved with wins in the league and the Scottish Cup that they know how to compete with the Hoops, and have done more than most to nullify their goal threat.

PFA Manager of the Year, Derek McInnes, has been disappointed by a slight slip in form which could yet allow Motherwell to beat the Dons to second place.

But Lennon is more interested in what his own players do in their remaining three matches.

And, he is heartened by the way they got back on top form against Inverness, with another clean sheet following the slackness shown during the draw at Fir Park a week earlier.

For the second week in a row, Celtic fans were treated to six goals.

The good news this time was that they were all scored by players in Hoops, with Anthony Stokes grabbing a hat-trick, Leigh Griffiths his second in two games, and Kris Commons setting up Efe Ambrose and Teemu Pukki for the final two nails in Caley Thistle's creaking coffin.

Lennon has watched the partnership between Stokes and Griffiths flourish - despite the off-field distractions for both - and believes they can be a force for good in the future.

"I thought the second goal against Inverness was a great goal," said the manager.

"Leigh has stepped away, Stefan Johansen has spotted this movement and has played a lovely threaded ball.

"Leigh's touch was good to control it before he picked out Anthony, and it was another great finish from him.

"They have struck up a great relationship. Then you have got Mr Commons coming into the picture.

"He is a really intelligent, terrific footballer, and the three of them are a great mix."

The proof of which can be seen in the scoring charts, with Commons on 28, Stokes on 19, plus Griffiths' goal-per-game ratio also very impressive.

Lennon said: "It is very, very healthy to have one man nearly on 30 and another one short of 20.

"Leigh has got seven in 12, and is staking a claim now that he is playing with real intent.

"We lost Gary Hooper last summer, so this is very, very healthy for us."

Lennon continued: "For a long time this season, we were relying on Kris to get the goals.

"Stokesy was playing well without getting on the scoresheet.

"But, all of a sudden, the goals are coming from him, and his all-round performance is excellent.

"He is getting the goals he deserves."

Stokes and Commons are not the only men with something to aim for before the season ends.

There is a real hunger to be involved in the closing weeks of the campaign, as Lennon witnessed at the weekend with the return after injury of Mikael Lustig (hip surgery), Charlie Mulgrew and Adam Matthews (both hamstring strains).

"They all want to play," said Lennon. "They have been back in training for the last couple of weeks. I will be always be guided by my medical team, and they felt they were ready to play.

"We knew Mikael was a little bit behind because he has been out for four months.

"So, we decided to start Adam and give him 70 minutes and Mikael the final 20.

"I'm sure the confidence Mikael will get from making this comeback will be fantastic."

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