Neil Lennon on Celtic’s controversial trip to Dubai as he insists ‘it’s not a break’

It’s perhaps just as well Celtic headed off to the sunshine in Dubai after losing to Rangers as it was minus 19 back in Glasgow.

The old gags are the best but it will be no laughing matter for Celtic when they try to pick up the pieces of their shattered season while out in the Middle East.

Neil Lennon ’s side were already skating on thin ice before they got to Ibrox. Going down to Rangers  despite dominating felt like plunging beneath the surface.

The temperature will rise in Dubai – but their 10 in a Row hopes look to have melted.

Celtic won’t admit it, of course. They were not going to hoist up any white flags in January but it’s never a good sign when it’s calculators needed rather than a fixture list.

The 19-point gap could be 10 if Celtic win all their games in hand but even then snookers are required with just two Old Firm clashes remaining.

Lennon won’t give up just yet though. He insisted Dubai is not a holiday for his side, it’s an opportunity to train away from the piles of snow and to reset the season.

The trip is a tad controversial given the global pandemic but Lennon sees it as essential business.

He said: “It’s not a break, it’s a training camp. It’s just a change of scenery. We just hope to come back refreshed and ready to go.

“You have got to keep going. You can’t just say it’s over because there is still a lot of football to be played. We have to be a lot more consistent in the second half of the season than we have been in the first half.”

Lennon will cling on the maths as well but it’s hard to see where Rangers are going to spill the points needed to give his men a sniff.

All they can do is keep winning at their end and hope some title nerves kick in across the city.

When it was put to Lennon that doesn’t look likely now, he said: “You can’t say that. I thought there was a lot of anxiety out there today and we had control of the game. It may be a pivotal moment in the season, I can’t predict what is going to happen in the second half, but we have to keep playing like that, keep being consistent, keep winning games and apply as much pressure as we possibly can.

“We have a lot to do now. We came here to win and we played that way so we are disappointed with the decision and the result but not the performance. 

“We have a lot of work to do.”

The overall picture is bleak for Celtic. The dreams of the 10 have turned in to a nightmare in a campaign riddled with self destruction.

They were at it again at Ibrox. Celtic were on top but they didn’t score. A colossal lapse in concentration from Nir Bitton  earned him a red card and another set piece proved costly.

Lennon grasped at some of the positives like a life raft.

Nir Bitton, Callum McGregor are posing for a picture: Bitton is sent off

© Rangers FC/PA Images
Bitton is sent off

He said: “Over the past few derby games everyone has been saying Rangers have been the better team but I think today we were the better team. 

“We made them look laborious at times and we were well on top. Allan McGregor got man of the match which speaks volumes for our performance. 

“There is no doubt the sending off had a huge impact on the game. We had to change our shape, change personnel, which we didn’t want to do. We had felt the longer the game went on we would win the game, not lose it.

“It’s funny, you dominate the game so much. We looked assured, strong. We were by far the dominant team then come away with nothing. That happens in football sometimes. I don’t think we got what we deserved today.

“It’s a sore one because we were the dominant team. We played brilliantly and I didn’t think it was a red card. That obviously gave Rangers a bit of encouragement and they got lucky with the goal, obviously. I don’t think they had an attempt on target so that suggests how well we played, even with 10 men. We are bitterly disappointed not to come away with something. I thought we deserved a lot more.”

Lennon wants – and needs – those levels for the remainder of the season.

He said: “There was plenty of belief in that performance. If we keep playing like that, we won’t have any problems at all. Our performances of late have been excellent and I thought we were excellent today. You think it just isn’t our day today. The manner of their goal, the red card, all those things went against us today. That’s football.”

It wasn’t Celtic’s day – but it’s not looking like Celtic’s season.