Hot Stokes keeps Celtic in title hunt

NEIL LENNON walked up the tunnel at Kilmarnock at half-time on Saturday fearful of his future as Celtic manager — but went to bed hoping that the season had taken a turn in the Parkhead club’s favour.

The Hoops were facing the prospect of falling 13 points behind Clydesdale Bank Premier League leaders Rangers after Killie raced into a sensational three-goal interval lead through Dean Shiels, Paul Heffernan and James Fowler.

Lennon’s pep-talk inspired an equally dramatic comeback with three goals in six minutes, Anthony Stokes scoring twice before stand-in skipper Charlie Mulgrew headed an equaliser.

Kenny Shiels’ side, though, might have sneaked it at the end but Heffernan missed the target from just a few yards out and Lennon enjoyed more good fortune a few hours later when St Mirren struck in injury-time at Ibrox to secure a point against Rangers.

Celtic remain 10 points behind the champions and three behind second-placed Motherwell — although the Hoops have a game in hand — but the Irishman wants his men to take heart from the spirit shown in the second-half in Ayrshire.

“I want the players to use that to their advantage,” said Lennon. “Winning football games is hard and winning championships is a very difficult thing to do.

“You have to go through hard times in games, rough patches where you have to dig deep and find a little bit more.”

Lennon, who praised youngster James Forrest for his “magnificent” performance admitted his concern about the long balls over the top of his defence which again caused problems: “It is something that we have to eradicate very quickly.”

To that end, he is set to change his back four once more for the Europa League clash with Rennes in France on Thursday night with Glenn Loovens, Thomas Rogne and Mark Wilson being considered for a recall.

Steven Whittaker admits Rangers’ draw against St Mirren was doubly frustrating because they knew they were in a position to heap even more pressure on Celtic.

“Playing after [Celtic], we knew what their result was.

“We could have stretched it again by another two points but we haven’t. It’s definitely disappointing.”

Rangers made hard work of the clash at Ibrox but a Nikica Jelavic strike early in the second-half looked like being enough to secure the win.

But Saints stunned their hosts when they hit back deep into injury-time through former Light Blues striker Steven Thompson, on a day when they did not deserve to end the match empty-handed.

Elsewhere, second-placed Motherwell, increased their lead over Celtic to three points after winning 1-0 at Hibernian.

The victory came thanks to Jamie Murphy’s eighth-minute header from Tom Hateley’s cross.

A superb display from Aberdeen gave them a 3-1 win over a disappointing Dundee United at Pittodrie.

Manager Derek McInnes enjoyed a comfortable 2-0 victory over Inverness in what could be his final match in charge of St Johnstone, having received permission to talk to Bristol City.

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