It’ll be tempting to indulge in the sheer sentimentality of Neil Lennon returning home to Celtic Park tomorrow when we face Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership, but all he’ll care about is ticking off another task on our road to an eighth league title in a row.
Now two matches removed from the dramatic exit of Brendan Rodgers, the team have had time to not only work with Lennon more, but also reflect on what has been an emotionally bruising couple of weeks.
Sheer force of will brought us through the storm of an Edinburgh double header and with the relative calm could come an understandable lull in performance and attitude.
However, rallying the team against that mentality is exactly why Lennon has been appointed until the end of the season and his task since the Hibs win has been adding a personal touch to his relationship with the players so he can build an understanding of what makes them tick and ultimately what pushes their buttons.
That was revealed by Kristoffer Ajer on media duties earlier this week, stating to The Daily Record that Lennon had been spending one-on-one time with a number of players, including the young Norwegian.
I had a really nice chat with him earlier this week when he told me what he was thinking and what his plans were, so it’s been a really good week.Kristoffer Ajer
He did that with a few of the boys. He’s talked with a few of the players to get and understanding of them and learn more from them and for us to learn more from him.
That two-way relationship will have benefited from a full week of preparation for the visit of Aberdeen, with Celtic’s schedule since the return from the Winter break being strictly a weekend to mid-week affair. That we finally have a bit of a breather is perfect for the squad and the interim boss.
That ‘interim’ status has very much been the subject of debate since last Tuesday. It was inevitable that speculation would persist about Lennon’s long-term future at the club, even if he’s gone to lengths to point out that his task is explicitly guiding the team through the fight for major honours and nothing more.
It’s reasonable for fans’ minds to wander into the not so far away future and think about the direction the club is taking, but Lennon himself will be hoping he can start to focus those minds on the immediate tasks at hand with continued good results.
Prolonged debate, speculation and unrest about the former captain taking charge beyond this season could be damaging to the defiant spirit surrounding the club right now, a spirit that inspired the side to wins against Hearts and Hibs. That unravels quickly if we are not all pulling together.
There’s no reason to think we are settling for second best by offering full-throated support to Neil Lennon right now. The debate on where we go from the summer onwards will be had but as it stands, for me, it’s about backing the manager and the team in trying circumstances. Time and a place and all that.
The likelihood is he won’t find any dissent at a sold-out Celtic Park tomorrow, with almost 60,000 more likely to burst into a chorus of ‘One Neil Lennon’ than argue the pros and cons of a permanent appointment. As mentioned, the billed emotional homecoming will be the narrative underpinning the entire occasion.
As for ticking off the task, Lennon is looking for his team to be more ruthless and direct in the opposition half, feeling that we’ve been slightly too hesitant and predictable in recent matches.
I think we can score more goals. I think we can get the ball forward a little bit quicker.
We have great pace in wide areas and through the middle in an attacking sense so I would like us to utilise that a little bit quicker if we can.Neil Lennon
What that entails in terms of team selection will be interesting with Odsonne Edouard and Oliver Burke not quite gelling together through the middle in the way we’d like at Easter Road.
Perhaps a return for Ewan Henderson is on the cards, a player who has offered a vibrant link between midfield and attack in recent opportunities.
Moving Burke or Edouard out into a wide area is also an option, allowing us to aggressively target Aberdeen’s full-backs with more direct balls forward, with Forrest or Sinclair then free to find space and a final ball behind the central striker.
The Dons will turn up to win points but there’s also a reality that they have a potentially season-defining Scottish Cup replay at Ibrox on Tuesday, perhaps making our hunger for the result much more ravenous than theirs.
Three wins from three against three of the country’s biggest sides will have us dreaming of a more substantial treble come May and strengthen belief that we are in good hands under Lennon, Kennedy and Duff.
For now that’s good enough, for now the show goes on.