Celtic get domestic focus back as Lennon eyes 'daylight'
Published 22/12/2012 | 05:00
AHEAD of the big day, Celtic must put their Christmas present back in its wrapping and get on with their work.
The excitement of the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League might linger for the crowd at Parkhead this afternoon but Neil Lennon and his players have to set aside the prospect of Juventus and concentrate on the arrival of Ross County.
The Highland side have already imposed a reality check on Celtic in the wake of a European success this season. After the Hoops had seen off HJK Helsinki in their first Champions League qualifier, the next domestic task was a trip to Dingwall, where only a stoppage-time equaliser by Kris Commons secured a share of the points.
Celtic's home form has been in stark contrast with their European exploits for most of the season, and last week's victory over St Mirren was their first in the league at Parkhead since October 7.
However, there is now the hope that a focused run in the SPL will be of assistance when the continental expedition resumes in the spring.
Asked how helpful a buffer zone in the league table would be by the time Juve visit the east end of Glasgow on February 12, Lennon replied: "Oh, hugely beneficial, hugely.
"We want to put as much daylight between ourselves and the rest as we possibly can. But some of the teams, Inverness and Aberdeen, are not going to go away easily."
The Parkhead manager was emphatic about what he wants between now and February.
"Momentum. People can throw anything at the SPL that they like – they criticise it when it suits them – but it has not done us any harm," said Lennon. "We are in the last 16 of the Champions League. We have been well prepared for all of the games.
"There is no doubt that during the campaign they were having one eye on the games, but now they can fully focus on the SPL.
"They haven't had it easy in the SPL. It is all right me saying they have had one eye on it, but teams have made it really hard for us at times. It has given them (the players) a kick up the backside at times when they have needed it.
"They didn't want to let Europe go and, to their credit, they have maintained it to the end of the year. We will see where it takes us."
Commons, Joe Ledley and Anthony Stokes are out for Celtic, but winger James Forrest may be available following a hamstring problem, while Ross County will be without the injured Martin Scott.
"We're looking forward to it," said County manager Derek Adams. "It's going to be a terrific occasion for Ross County going there as an SPL side." (© Daily Telegraph, London)