Lennon walks tall with Celtic greats
Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes he can now walk alongside some of the Parkhead greats after his side wrapped up the Clydesdale Bank Premier League title in fine style with a 6-0 crushing of Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
The visitors only needed a point but a Charlie Mulgrew double and goals from defender Glenn Loovens and striker Gary Hooper gave them an unassailable interval lead. Late goals by Joe Ledley and Hooper confirmed with some conviction that the championship is back at Parkhead for the first time in four years.
Former Celtic skipper Lennon said: "I was walking behind Martin (O'Neill), Gordon (Strachan), Wim Jansen, Davie Hay, Billy McNeill and Mr (Jock) Stein and now I can step out from behind them and walk alongside them and that is a fantastic feeling for me. You are judged on championships, ultimately."
He added: "When you are a player you are part of a team. I had (Henrik) Larsson, (Chris) Sutton, (Stiliyan) Petrov, (Paul) Lambert, (Johan) Mjallby and (Alan) Thompson to lean on. When you are a manager it is a lonely job, you have to make the decisions.
"You get criticised for them, you get praised for them but you have to keep the middle ground, have to keep a level head. I am only young in this job, it's only my second (full) season, it's a huge job with huge expectations but I fee vindicated now. I felt as if I was on probation. Now I feel the Celtic manager."
Kilmarnock beat Celtic in the Scottish Communities League Cup final at Hampden last month but, with the mood the Parkhead men were in, there was never any chance of a repeat which gave Lennon the ultimate sense of achievement.
"It is the greatest moment of my professional life," said the Northern Irishman. "It doesn't get much better than this. I am so proud. It is hard to put into words what you go through, (this) was the epitome of the team; class, pace and there was a swagger about them."
After watching Rangers win the title at Rugby Park last season with a 5-1 victory, Killie boss Kenny Shiels had to suffer again.
The Ayrshire club had decanted some of their supporters from the East Stand to allow the visitors three of the four stands. The move to accommodate the hordes of Hoops fans made around £150,000 for Killie's coffers but it was akin to a home game for Lennon's men with a matching atmosphere.
"Obviously I don't feel the best but there is a trade-off," said Shiels. "We had to go for the financial benefits, bringing in as much revenue as we possibly can but we lost three points and that is disappointing at the best of times. We remain dignified and give them full credit, they are worthy winners of the championship, I want to make that point clear."