THE not insignificant matter of overcoming a St Mirren side who are unbeaten in three games and who held Celtic to a draw in Paisley last season is all that has been occupying the minds of the Parkhead club’s players, manager and coaching staff in training this week.

But the travelling supporters who will file into the Simple Digital Arena this afternoon will already be thinking ahead to the Ladbrokes Premiership match against Rangers in the East End on Sunday.

The eagerly-anticipated encounter with Steven Gerrard’s team will go a long way towards determining who is crowned Scottish champions come May and the sense of excitement among the fans is palpable.

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A third victory of the season over their Glasgow rivals could put the defending champions, provided they win today and their nearest challengers do the same against Kilmarnock at Ibrox, eight points clear at the top of the table entering the winter break.

Yet, Neil Lennon knows from bitter personal experience that not slipping up in less high-profile matches is every bit as important when it comes to winning the league and has been stressing to his charges not to allow their attention to wander.

“I do remind the players that it could come down to any type of game,” he said. “Sometimes you lose due to bad luck or the other team playing brilliantly.

“I remember losing to Hearts in 2003 when Austin McCann scored an absolute worldy against us at Tynecastle (the defender netted a last-minute winner in April and Celtic lost the league on goal difference in May despite winning their last six games). Sometimes you can’t legislate for stuff. It’s fine lines at the minute.”

But Lennon, whose team extended their winning run domestically to 12 games with their hard-fought 2-1 triumph over Aberdeen at Parkhead on Saturday, has been impressed by his players’ unquenchable thirst for success.

He believes that having Rangers, who are five points behind them with a game in hand against St Johnstone at home, breathing down their necks in the 2019/20 campaign has brought out the very best in his men.

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“Being pushed just increases your instincts and keeps you really focused,” he said. “You know that you can’t have a slip up and I think it makes you play better. It makes you less complacent or comfortable and I think it’s good for them.

“Maybe they haven’t had that, although this time last year the two teams were pretty close. But the players are enjoying the pressure side of it.

“When I look at this run there’s not really many games where we’ve been off it or I’ve come away thinking ‘we weren’t very good’. We have got individuals who can change a game in a moment. Once they get their noses in front you can just see the confidence ooze through them.

“There will be wee bumps along the way, there is no question of that. I know it can flip very quickly, but I am really enjoying what they are doing at the minute. As a backroom staff, we are delighted with the way we are playing and the intent and the quality of football at times. We are very exciting to watch.

“At this stage of the season, winter months and all that, you can get bogged down a little bit, but they don’t look as if they’re getting that way. Even at Hearts we created really good quality chances on a difficult pitch. There is a real effervescence about them at the minute. They are being pushed and I think they are enjoying that.”

The energy levels shown by Scott Brown and his team mates has been remarkable given the demands which have been made of them at home and abroad this year.

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“Somebody told me that the Hearts game was our 60th of 2019 - and that’s with a January break and a summer break,” said Lennon. “So, you have those 60 games squeezed into three or four months in each half of the season.

“And those are club games, not international games. But that’s a good thing, because you’re in all the competitions and when you’re not in a competition you miss the excitement. I’m delighted with the style of play, I’m delighted with the intent and most of all I’m delighted with the wins.

Lennon hasn’t tinkered with Celtic’s starting line-up greatly during their recent spell of good form and won’t be tempted to rest key players against St Mirren.

“We can’t come off it because if you do that and it doesn’t go your way and you get a negative result then you put a lot of pressure on yourself going into other games,” he said.

“There is no reason for me to rest anyone at the minute. We had three games in six days there. We changed maybe one or two in the team. There is no reason for me to make wholesale changes. They have now had a five day break so they have had that extra bit of recovery time. St Mirren will be a tough nut to crack away. If we do come off it we will be punished.”