WHEN Neil Lennon was a player at Celtic under both Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan he always had team mates who would strike fear into defences whenever the Parkhead club won a free-kick near the opposition area or were awarded a corner.

Bobo Balde, John Hartson, Henrik Larsson, Stephen McManus, Johan Mjallby, Chris Sutton, Joos Valgaeren and Stanislav Varga, to name just a handful, could all, thanks to their bravery, physicality and aerial ability, be lethal when the ball was floated into their rivals’ penalty box.

When Lennon took over as manager, too, he could call on Efe Ambrose, Daniel Majstorovic, Charlie Mulgrew, Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama, Kelvin Wilson and others to go upfield and use their height to devastating effect in dead ball situations.

The same, however, cannot be said of the team the Northern Irishman has inherited from his countryman Brendan Rodgers. The lack of threat they pose at free-kicks and corners has struck him since he returned to the East End in February. It is something he admits he is keen to address.


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When centre-half Jozo Simunovic rose above his Hibernian counterpart Darren McGregor in injury-time in the Ladbrokes Premiership match at Easter Road on Sunday, got on the end of a Callum McGregor delivery and nodded the ball at goal it was the first time the visitors had hurt their hosts at a set piece.

Ofir Marciano, the Israeli goalkeeper, produced an inspired save to keep the scoreline level and earn Paul Heckinbottom’s team a deserved draw. But Lennon was happy just to see the passage of play at long last. He wants more of the same in the final five games of the 2018/19 campaign.

Asked if he thought Celtic need to pose more of a threat at corners and free-kicks, he said: “We do, yeah. Some of the deliveries were good and some were very, very poor. There’s an inconsistency there.

“We work on them, we practice them, but you need to get them right in the moment and give the lads a chance to go and actually attack the ball. We nearly got one at the end from a set play, Marciano made a great save from the header from Jozo. That pleases me obviously, but we need more of that, consistently.”

Lennon has admitted that a major rebuilding job is required at Celtic this summer and has, even though he is unsure if he will still be in the dugout next term, helped with the ongoing process of identifying potential signings who can help the Parkhead club maintain their domestic dominance.


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With Filip Benkovic, Dedryck Boyata and possibly Mikael Lustig poised to move on during the close season, new centre backs will doubtless be high on their list of priorities.

Asked if bringing in individuals who can pose more of a threat at set plays would be a objective in the coming weeks, the interim manager said: “I can’t comment on that at the minute . . . ”

Celtic recorded their third 0-0 draw in six Premiership games at the weekend, but Lennon, who has been deprived the services of Leigh Griffiths since he returned and forced to start Odsonne Edouard in no fewer than seven of the nine matches he has taken charge of, is unconcerned.

The former Bolton and Hibs manager is confident the goals will come and is keen for his side to start games more positively and show greater composure going forward in the four league matches they have remaining – starting against Kilmarnock at Celtic Park this Saturday.

“It would be a worry if we weren’t creating chances,” he said. “Obviously against Hibs we had great chances to win the game. The nil-nils come from not starting in the right manner, I think, and again we didn’t start in the right manner again against Hibs.


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“I don’t need to tell the players they need to look at it and analyse it themselves. I don’t think it’s a case of them thinking ‘we just need to turn up to win the game’, but certainly our play in the final third on Sunday wasn’t at the acceptable level.”

The draw in Edinburgh means that triple treble chasers Celtic are now unable to win their eighth consecutive Scottish title at Parkhead this weekend.

If they beat Steve Clarke’s side – something that is by no means guaranteed given how well the Ayrshire club have performed against them in the past couple of seasons under the former Chelsea and Liverpool assistant – they need their city rivals Rangers to draw with or lose to Aberdeen at Ibrox the following day.

However, all Lennon, who is hoping to impress enough to be asked to take over on a permanent basis at the end of the season, cares about is the Glasgow club getting over the line.

“I can’t think about that now,” he said. Everyone says ‘oh we could have won it at Easter Road, or at home, or whatever’. We just need to win it and stop thinking about when we’re going to win it.

“It’s about the next game - win it and see where that takes us. If we have to go to Aberdeen (Celtic play at Pittodrie on Saturday week) make sure we do the job properly and win the title and put it to bed and then we can look forward to the cup final.”

Asked if it was understandable if the players became preoccupied with when they are going to win their latest title, Lennon said: “Yeah, of course, and the fans do it too. I get it to a certain extent, but you’ve still got to stay in the present. I’ve prepared for each game one game at a time because it’s just too important not to.”