CALLUM McGREGOR says that the hunger and desire that manager Neil Lennon has fostered in his squad has allowed the champions to pull away from Rangers in the race for the title.

The Ibrox side's win at Parkhead in December was the first they had recorded over their rivals in Glasgow's east end since they returned to the Premiership, and left Steven Gerrard's side virtually neck-and-neck with the champions at the top of the Premiership table.

But while Rangers faltered upon the resumption of league action after the winter break, Celtic did anything but. Lennon's men recorded 11 consecutive wins in domestic competition before the coronavirus crisis enforced a lockdown of Scottish football, while the Govan club's title challenge imploded after a series of underwhelming displays.

Speaking to the Celtic View, midfield stalwart McGregor revealed that he and his team-mates were able to make the most of their January training camp in Dubai as they had a template to follow from last season - and credited the tactical tweaks and positive mindset that Lennon has instilled as a key factor in their "relentless" form since the turn of the year.

“Since we came back in January we’ve been absolutely excellent," he said. "In terms of performances and results we put in some good displays and racked up some good scorelines as well.

HeraldScotland:

“When we went to Dubai it was the same set-up and idea as we’ve had in previous years so everyone knew exactly what we were doing. We all knew we were going to work really hard in the sessions.

“Everyone went out knowing that we were going to focus on the tactical idea of what we were wanting to do, refocus on how we were playing the game and improve the fitness levels. The hard work was done in the morning and afternoon sessions, and then we had the evenings together to really integrate the squad.

“That’s worked really well for us in the last three or four years and this year has been exactly the same.

“Everyone arrived back fresh and hungry. We took off at a relentless pace, and momentum is a massive thing in football and we had that in abundance. We went into every game confident, hungry and knowing how we wanted to play.

“We probably didn’t imagine we’d be this far in front but we had to set the pace and beat who was in front of us. The mindset was a case of anyone who comes up against us, we’re going to play our football and if people couldn’t keep up with that we were going to be relentless.”

The Scotland internationalist, who has 13 goals in all competitions to his name this season, reckons that the change in shape that has been employed since the turn of the year has allowed him and his fellow midfielders to drive forward and contribute heavily in the final third.

The switch to a 3-5-2 formation has brought plenty of benefits, McGregor insists, and was something that Lennon was determined to implement after Celtic's attack began to look a little rusty.

“For myself, in terms of goals, I was really enjoying that spell after Christmas where we’d changed the system,” he said. “That allowed me, Ryan [Christie], Ollie [Ntcham] or Tom [Rogic] to go forward a little bit more.

HeraldScotland:

“I was getting into goalscoring positions and hit a nice wee purple patch in terms of getting goals. I was feeling good, feeling fit and influencing games, which is what I want to do.

“The volume of goals we were scoring was a combination of the form we were on, the fitness of the players and the system. The change in system allowed us a bit more freedom in terms of going forward because we had the three in front and one behind to try and secure it. That gave us more numbers going forward.

“The gaffer felt like we had become a bit pedestrian going forward in terms of scraping 1-0s and things like that. He wanted more of a focus on the counter-attack so that when we won the ball and it was in transition, boys would take off straight away and we’d get runners going beyond. He refocused us in that regard to be a bit more ruthless.

“The goals have been a combination of more bodies and a hunger and willingness to get forward quickly. That’s why you seen the numbers go up around November, December time and then into January and beyond.

“The boys have been excellent since the turn of the year and that’s why we put ourselves in such a good position.”