GIVEN the emphatic response after Celtic’s defeat to Rangers in December last season, perhaps Neil Lennon has full justification in asking for patience from the club’s supporters as he bids to repeat the feat after the disappointment of the weekend.

There is no one who knows better though that credit in the bank is a currency that doesn’t hold its value for long in Glasgow, and Lennon is keen to stress that he is fully cognisant of the current problems that exist within his team.

If the point was underlined by the straightforward manner of the Rangers victory on Celtic’s own patch, then those frailties may be highlighted in bold when Serie A leaders AC Milan come to town this evening, but Lennon is determined to stay the course through the current storm around his team.

And despite being disappointed with the level of performance being shown by his men throughout the season to date, he is adamant that he can again rouse them from their apparent malaise.

“I have no reason to think otherwise,” Lennon said when asked if he was the man to turn their fortunes around.

“I’m not blasé about it. You get your head down and you work hard at it. I think I’ve proven over a long number of years that we have the mettle for it.

“At the weekend that was out second defeat to Rangers in a row. And we could and should have played better.

“However, the players over the piece have been absolutely magnificent. And they will be again. I have no doubt about that. We cannot let one bad performance and one defeat rankle with us. We have to accept it and respect the result.

“We’re not happy with the performance levels since basically the start of the season. We had one really good game where we flowed and that was against Hibs. But the other ones, while I wouldn’t say a struggle as we dominated the games, we haven’t been as penetrating or fluid as we can be.

“But it’s down to me to rectify that and find the answers. We talk and have dialogue with the players and they’re a brilliant bunch to work with. They’re a great group. They need a bit of protection as well and that’s what I’m there for.

“But you have to take it. We were bitterly disappointed [after the Rangers defeat] and we’re hurting. We’re looking for a positive reaction and know we can play better.”

Lennon has criticised his players on occasion this season, but for the most part, he has offered himself as a human shield when the flak has been flying from the outside.

“Ultimately the responsibility is on me,” he said. “I pick the team and the formation. It didn’t work [against Rangers].

“But I have utter belief in these players. They’ve done amazing things over the last four or five years. I’m convinced they’ll continue to do so.

“We had a day to prepare the team and know we can play better than we played. But we have a big game now and I think that give them less time to dwell on things.

“We’ll look to put things right from the weekend and play better. Our performances over the piece this season have been just okay. We’ve not hit the levels we can get to.

“There are possibly mitigating circumstances for that, with no crowds and life away from the training ground being different as well. But we have to deal with that. We have to find our levels. We need to be more fluent in the way we want to play.”

There may be mitigating factors, rather than excuses, for Celtic’s often flat showings, with the stop-start nature of their season so far contributing to their lack of rhythm.

“Possibly I think that’s something that could be a factor,” Lennon said.

“I do think the lack of crowds is a factor as well. But we’re not making excuses. We were second best on Saturday and we know that and we have to rectify that as we go along.

“There is a long way to go, plenty of time to find our best form and the free-flowing football we are capable of and that’s all that I want to see from the team.”

The barrage of criticism that followed the Rangers loss was no surprise to Lennon, but his focus has now shifted towards the daunting task of shackling Zlatan Ibrahimovic and co as high-flying Milan roll into Glasgow on the crest of a wave after winning out on their own derby day at the weekend.

“You know [the criticism] is coming one way or the other,” he said. “But I don’t get too high when we win, either.

“It hurts and the disappointment lingers for a day or two but you can’t let that permeate to the players. We have analysed parts of the game we feel we could have done better. The two goals were disappointing, one being a set play and the other coming when we had six men to our favour against three inside the box and we didn’t deal with it.

“We were too passive with our play and that’s not how we want them to play.

“But we’ve analysed that and now we’re prepared for AC Milan. We’ve had the luxury of having a couple of days to really prepare them. We’ve got what we want from them on the training ground and hopefully we can take that into the game.”