NEIL LENNON knows only too well that in Glasgow, being second to your city rivals is a million miles away from being satisfactory. So too is he acutely aware that Celtic’s recent record of two wins from 11 matches is a million miles away from being remotely acceptable to the club’s supporters.

Still, the Celtic manager – for he remains so despite the will of many fans – believes that his team aren’t a million miles away from turning the corner, and he cites their performance in the defeat to AC Milan on Thursday night as proof of his theory.

Going forward, they were indeed impressive at times. Their attacking verve seemed to have returned, with the likes of Tom Rogic and Odsonne Edouard in particular looking to be back in the old groove.

Defensively though, Lennon’s team was a shambles, and he is aware of that too even if he may have phrased his assessment a little more diplomatically. Weak in the tackle and lacking the desire to protect their box, the 27 goals they have conceded in this awful 11-game run speak of a team that couldn’t keep weans out of a close, never mind professional strikers off of the scoresheet.

Lennon saw enough in their performance overall though to suggest that brighter times may be ahead, and soon.

“I know it’s all about perspective and I don’t want to sound like a happy clapper, either,” Lennon said. “But I don’t think we are a million miles away from being a real force again and a good side.

“We’ve had a few hiccups to sort out and settle down defensively, but, overall, I’ve got to be pleased with what I got in Milan in terms of quality of performance.

“I think we lacked a little bit of physicality in certain moments. That's all. We need to tackle better and we need to do the dirty bits of the game better.

“In the second half of the game over in Prague the week before, we dominated for 35 minutes after half-time, but it didn’t feel as though we were going to break Sparta down.

“This time, it felt as though we were going to break Milan down on more than occasion in the second half at 3-2. The frustrating thing is we’re chasing a game when we shouldn’t be.”

What also gives Lennon confidence of a quick turnaround in fortunes is what he sees when he looks into the eyes of his players; a desire to put things right.

There have been heart-to-hearts with individuals as Lennon tries to coax out the performances that had Celtic sweeping all before them up until this season, and he believes he can tease those sort of levels from his men once more.

“We speak to them individually as well as a group,” he said.

“I had a long chat with Jeremie [Frimpong] on Thursday in the afternoon before the game. I had a good half an hour sat with him.

“He was outstanding in the San Siro. I don’t know if it had anything to do with the chat that we had, but he went out there and played bravely.

“I don’t just want to speak to them about football. I want to get to know what’s going on with them.

“I want to know how they are getting on in Glasgow with the restrictions, how they are coping with it all. They are also human beings.

“Jeremie was pretty positive about the whole thing and he’s sort of gone out and it manifested itself in his performance in Milan.

“They are good boys, they are really good lads and they are working really hard.

“I’ve done it with many of them. Senior players, younger players. The response has been good.

“Kris Ajer is still a young man. Ryan Christie is the same, so is Odsonne [Edouard].

“We are having a bad run and it's probably the first one we have had in five, six or 10 years.

“There has been long chats with a few of them over the past few days just to see where we are as a group.

“I thought they did a lot of good things in Milan and that pleased me.”

A worry to Lennon though is that the improved showing came at least a little from the surroundings on Thursday night, with the adrenaline rush of playing at the San Siro - even when it is deserted - perhaps squeezing an extra percentage point or two from his players.

He has challenged them now to produce those same levels back on home territory against St Johnstone tomorrow.

“Home or away, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “The performance needs to reach the levels it did on Thursday night.

“We have to be inspired by our home stadium and, even though it’s without supporters, we have to play as strongly as we did in the San Siro. If we do, we’ll be fine.

“More than ever, the players have to motivate themselves. And we do our best as a backroom team to motivate them as best we can.

“There has been a lot of soul searching from them in the last few days and I got the response I was looking for in Milan.

“I’ve had a chat with a few of them and they are all in it. They are all head scratching, but they showed on Thursday night what a good team they can be.

“We took the game to Milan in the San Siro. I think it may have inspired them a bit to going out and playing there.

“So, hopefully, going back to Celtic Park is going to inspire them even more now.

“St Johnstone have been on a decent run. Callum (Davidson) has gone in off the back of Tommy (Wright) being there so long, but he knows the club inside out and he knows the players inside out.

“They are always stodgy opposition to play against and they may feel we are a little bit vulnerable. But it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We have to try and end this run of draws and defeats as quickly as possible.”