Celtic's Neil Lennon surprisingly positive as he enters crucial week

Football managers need to be careful not to confuse public optimism with delusion.

Celtic's Neil Lennon surprisingly positive as he enters crucial week Neil Lennon's positive appraisal of Celtic's showing during Tuesday night's 1-1 home draw with Kilmarnock would be challenged by many onlookers. And with justification; in drawing their third home match in succession and against inferior opponents who did not even perform to the best of their capabilities, Celtic toiled for long spells. Kilmarnock came within six minutes of securing victory at a venue where they have not won for more than five decades.

"There were times when we absolutely murdered Kilmarnock with our width and passing," Lennon insisted. "We just lacked that finishing touch. I would be more concerned if we weren't creating chances. And they were gilt-edged chances as well. Kilmarnock had come with a bit of confidence but they never had a look in, our goalkeeper had nothing to do.

"Then we got done with a breakaway goal, which happens. The fans are disappointed and I understand that but sometimes you have to look at the overall performance, which was a lot, lot better than it has been for quite some time."

A year ago, Celtic's championship challenge was starting to unravel during Tony Mowbray's disastrous tenure. Lennon has been permitted a smoother media ride than his immediate predecessor, understandably and on account of the respect the Northern Irishman earned during his successful playing days at Parkhead.

Still, Lennon's bullish descriptions of some of Celtic's displays are open to question. The manager was similarly positive after Celtic snatched victory with a stoppage-time winner at St Mirren, their showing in Paisley having been generally lacking in inspiration.

What is without doubt is the significance of Celtic's next three fixtures, not least for Lennon himself. St Johnstone visit Glasgow's East End today, Motherwell do likewise on Wednesday and the campaign's second Old Firm encounter arrives next weekend. A run of five successive home fixtures leading up to that derby should be a blessing for Celtic; having shipped six points in three of them, further slip-ups have potential to be disastrous.

Lennon is at least entitled to be upbeat about the return to fitness of Scott Brown. The midfielder will start against St Johnstone after sitting out three months because of a foot problem. Brown, a combative and confrontational sort, may introduce the bite Celtic have clearly been lacking.

The former Hibernian man, though, is not short of detractors. That matter has irked his manager. "I thought some of the criticism Scott got earlier in the season was over the top," Lennon says. "When he has played, we have won every game in the league. That's how important he is to us.

"When I took over he did a great job as captain so I saw no reason to change that. He is an influence on the pitch as well as off the pitch. The criticism aimed at him was simply unreasonable.

"I think his performances have been very good. He was starting to really show what he could do, scored a goal against Hibs, then picked up an injury. He has worked ever so hard in the time he has been out. He is an amazing athlete for a football player, he has come back a lot quicker than an average footballer would have done. We are going to need him now, in this period. I think people should start getting off his back and let him get on with his football.

"Captains are important at big clubs. Was Roy Keane important? Is Steven Gerrard? Is John Terry? A club like Celtic should have that kind of leader and at the minute Brown fits that bill."

The role of Georgios Samaras has been more of the bit-part variety, although the Greek striker may re-enter Lennon's thoughts after Gary Hooper's injury. Samaras, one of the highest earners at Celtic, is out of contract in the summer and has admirers in England but Lennon says the former Manchester City player has an option to extend his stay in Glasgow.

"We are still in talks with him regarding a new contract," Lennon says of Samaras. "Talks have stalled but the ball is in his court."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Ewan Murray, for guardian.co.uk on Sunday 26th December 2010 07.00 Europe/London

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