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Defiant Lennon turns to mind games

With comments reminiscent of the infamous 1996 spat between Alex Ferguson and Kevin Keegan, Neil Lennon yesterday warned Hearts, Dundee United and Kilmarnock that he will scrutinise their performances against Rangers for evidence of the same commitment displayed by Inverness Caley Thistle in their victory over Celtic on Wednesday.

Celtic manager Lennon was irritated by remarks made by David Goodwillie when the Dundee United forward accepted the accolade of Young Player of the Year at the SPL awards dinner in Glasgow the night before Celtic's defeat in the Highlands.

Goodwillie said that he hoped Rangers would win the Scottish title because it would increase the chance Peter Houston's team playing Europa League football next season.

Asked if he was anxious that Rangers' opponents in the run-in might not display the same passion as Caley Thistle, Lennon replied: "I'm not concerned, but I'd like to think there's the same professional pride as Inverness showed the other night and I will be watching the games with interest, put it that way."

When invited to give an example of opponents not giving their all during his playing days, Lennon -- whose team face Kilmarnock at Rugby Park tomorrow -- replied, to laughter: "Against Celtic?!"

Asked if the situation had occurred during his playing days in England, he said: "Not really, no."

Having thus dispatched a pack of cats to play among a flock of pigeons, Lennon responded in sparky fashion when it was suggested that Celtic might be considered to have no excuse for failing to win the league because of their size of their squad, compared to Rangers.

"Rubbish, absolute rubbish," was his response. "I don't buy into that at all. Just because you've got a big squad means you're entitled to win the league -- nonsense, just nonsense.

"Rangers have spent fractionally less money than we have, but we've sold our best players. We sold McGeady, Boruc, McManus and Fortune, so we've rebuilt the squad and team -- and we're in the black from it as well -- so I don't buy into the fact we have more money."

More immediately, Lennon has to lift his players after a defeat that took the destiny of the title out of their hands.

Celtic also suffered a serious setback with the news that Beram Kayal's broken wrist would keep him out of action for the rest of the season.

Charlie Mulgrew and Mark Wilson both picked up injuries in the game at Inverness. Wilson could make it but Mulgrew is an unlikely starter.

With Joe Ledley, like Kayal, out for the rest of the season, it does not help that Georgios Samaras and Anthony Stokes are suspended for the trip to Ayrshire.

To the question of his ability to raise his player's morale, Lennon said: "Of course I can. It is still up for grabs -- there is just a point in it with three games to go.

"If you had offered me that at the start of the season I'd have bitten your hand off. However, we have handed the initiative back to Rangers, so what we will do is, we will win every game, and we'll force them to win theirs.

"If we have any chance of winning the league, we have to win all our games. And I think we will." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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Irish Independent