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Celtic manager Neil Lennon lets rip at his critics

THE Celtic fans might have gone home happy after their side buried Rangers on the pitch and they got to taunt their bitter rivals off it, but Neil Lennon wasn't about to sit back and let the moment pass without slamming his critics.

He has guided his team to the league title, but the Armagh native has had his credentials questioned after losing on both of his trips to Hampden Park, to Kilmarnock in the League Cup and to Hearts in the Scottish Cup semi-final, as well as two Old Firm games at Ibrox. So, having watched his team put three past their foes, the Hoops boss went on the offensive.

"People have thrown this accusation that we can't handle the big games, well all those accusations have been diminished today," he said. "We have lost one game in the league since October.

"You guys (media) set a really high standard if you think we are bottle merchants. We were brilliant from start to finish. Once we found our feet, we were magnificent. I am very proud of the team, I am very proud of the way they played and passed it, three great goals. We played better than them today and proved to be the champions."

The 52,000 Hoops fans in attendance at the final Old Firm derby demonstrated as much with a magnificently ghoulish display of massed black flags (fashioned from bin bags) and cardboard tombstones -- supplemented by a vast banner depicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as Neil Lennon, the Taxman, Death and Craig Whyte.

Ignominious

At Ibrox on March 25 -- when Celtic could have won the title -- Ally McCoist's players summoned every sinew of their hearts and souls to avoid such an ignominious addition to their chronicles.

That crisis was averted by a 3-2 victory -- wholly merited, despite two late goals for Celtic which threw the issue into doubt -- but Rangers had exhausted their reserves of defiance, as was soon evident when play got under way.

The yielding of acres of outfield space was noted by Celtic and when they won their first corner Kris Commons pitched his delivery over the crowded penalty area to find Charlie Mulgrew stealing in from midfield. Mulgrew hurled himself to connect with a header that cannoned off the ground and flew over Allan McGregor's head before the 'keeper could adjust.

In that instant, Rangers were a beaten team, and their supporters could tell from the players' body language.

The home crowd, by contrast, could now uncork every celebratory taunt and chorus at their disposal -- and how they relished the task. The half-hour was bookmarked by goal No 2, another delightful example of the art of scoring.

This time it originated in an area that should have been simple for Rangers to corral. Instead, Scott Brown was able to scoop the ball along the very margin of the pitch for Gary Hooper to switch an infield pass into the path of Commons, who finished with a delightfully dinked shot.

The impression that Celtic could score at will was reinforced nine minutes after the break. McGregor had just saved a full-blooded effort from Joe Ledley but he could do nothing to halt Hooper's slashing drive from the edge of the box.

By this stage a historic rout was on the cards. Yet something decidedly odd occurred. Celtic eased off. Yes, the championship had long been stowed away and, yes, the match was in their control but, with Brown acting as conductor deep in midfield the Dead March gave way to gentle muzak -- at least on the pitch.

In the stands, the Celtic supporters continued to rattle through their songbook, yet here, too, there seemed to be the sense that there could almost be too much of a good thing. Fanciful? Perhaps -- but when the Rangers corner produced its own Poznan in response to Celtic's mass huddle, there was good-natured applause from the home ranks.

And, in a game that was preceded by the resounding notes of Verdi's 'Triumphal March', the music for the closing credits was 'When Will I See You Again?' Is this the beginning? For Celtic, it certainly looks as though a prolonged period of dominance is under way.

Or is it the end? In a couple of days, financially stricken Rangers should know the answer to that. But if they go under, there is a crowd in the east end of Glasgow who will be deprived of the sweet and sour joy of arch-rivalry. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent