NEIL LENNON knows the pressure of delivering the title this campaign might not be as intense as it usually is – but the Celtic manager is fully aware expectations remain as high as ever at Parkhead.
As his team opened the defence of the SPL crown with a 1-0 victory over Aberdeen, the usual excitement of championship flag unfurling day appeared to be somewhat muted considering it was the first time in four years the event had taken place in the East End of Glasgow.
So, too, it has to be said, was the performance level of the champions. As much as Fraser Forster was rarely tested during the course of the 90 minutes, Lennon would be the first to say his team is capable of much more than they showed.
But he desperately needs them to come up with the goods in Finland on Wednesday evening when they come up against HJK Helsinki. With the advantage of a 2-1 win from the first leg, Lennon takes his men into a game of monumental importance with a clear advantage.
It will, however, require a performance every bit as good as last week, and much better than they offered against Craig Brown's side, to ensure their safe passage through to the Champions League play-off.
While Scottish football needs Celtic to prosper in Europe this season given everything else that is going on, that is not the responsibility of Lennon and his players, and most certainly won't be their motivation to succeed.
With a long and, possibly, mundane domestic campaign on the cards, European competition can provide an escape route from what could become the rituals of a one-horse title race.
"It's a huge game and qualification for the group stages has been at the forefront of my mind since the end of May," said Lennon.
"A lot is resting on what happens on Wednesday – for me to take the team on, and the players to enhance the season for themselves.
"We'll possibly have to score. They are a good side at home and will be more attack- minded. They changed their system at Parkhead but will go back to how they normally play, which is a 4-4-2, or with just one off the striker.
"Their wide men come in to make it narrow and they try to get their width from their full-backs, so this game is not straightforward.
"They have beaten Schalke at home. And then there's our away record – we are unpredictable away from home.
"But our players have had a good look at them. We did create a lot of chances. If we had been a bit sharper in front of goal we could have won by more. But we have a one-goal lead that gives us something to hold on to."
Having European matches to focus on will be crucial for Lennon as he is streetwise enough to know winning the championship probably won't be enough for the green-and-white hoards this term.
But here lies the problem. Usually, the first priority is to get points on the board and then check how Old Firm rivals Rangers got on. Even when the performance wasn't particularly inspiring, the importance of bagging three points always came first.
Now, with Rangers playing in the Third Division, the fear factor of being beaten and the nerves of losing ground in the title race have gone. That, in itself, will make Lennon's job even harder this season where league games are concerned.
Whereas supporters in the past would possibly leave the stadium simply content that their team had won, they will not simply go to watch Celtic without expecting something to compensate for the lack of excitement. The Hoops fans will want to see plenty of goals and convincing wins from their team.
And when the players don't produce such football, just like Saturday when Kris Commons netted the only goal of the game courtesy of a blunder from Aberdeen keeper Jamie Langfield, it makes it all too easy to be critical of the side's performance when it is probably unfair to do so.
Despite Celtic voting Rangers out of the SPL, along with a majority of other clubs, it is not their fault their great rivals are currently in the predicament that they are in, and it certainly isn't Lennon's.
Having delivered the first championship in four years last season and built a highly exciting and talented young team, the Parkhead manager must have been looking forward to attempting to take things to the next level.
In order to do so, he needed to invest in his team – he has often gone on record stating his desire to sign a striker and a defender. Financially, however, it isn't quite possible in the current climate and therefore the changes that might just make a big difference to his side can't be made.
A victory on Wednesday night, and another step closer to the Champions League, is likely to make life so much easier for the Celtic manager in many respects, and no doubt enhance their domestic campaign in the process.