Gordon Strachan has assured Celtic fans performances will improve as his players adapt to the pressures of playing for the club.
Celtic are two victories away from the double but disquiet has been growing among fans amid a run of just one win from four Bank of Scotland Premier League games.
And fans booed Strachan’s decision to replace Derek Riordan with Kenny Miller during Saturday’s 2-1 Tennent’s Scottish Cup semi-final win over First Division St Johnstone.
However, as Celtic go into Sunday’s visit to Kilmarnock three points away from the title, the Hoops manager insists his team can be proud, especially considering the injuries and departures they have had to contend with.
Bobo Balde, Craig Beattie, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Mark Wilson are among those who have endured spells on the sidelines, while the likes of John Hartson, Alan Thompson, Chris Sutton and Didier Agathe have departed since Strachan arrived.
Strachan said: “Because of the good work we have done since way back in July when we first started out, we have got ourselves in this position where we are 13 points clear with five games to go.
“Through ups and downs, good football and indifferent football, we have got ourselves into this position, and it’s not because of anyone else bar ourselves.
“We have an opportunity to win a title on Sunday and we will give it our best shot, as we have done all year.
“As a group we have a lot to be proud of this year. We have a lot to improve on, but we should be proud of a lot of things we have done.
“The group has been hit with a lot of injuries, especially to the guys up front and the strikers have missed about 65 games between them, but we have managed to get through.
“We have lost big players and big personalities over the past 18 months and other people have had to come in and do a job, so they can be pleased with themselves in terms of their attitude.
“The performance level, we will get that better, there is no doubt about that.”
Strachan reiterated his view that the entertainment level has been low throughout the SPL in recent weeks as teams battle for points and play on uneven pitches.
And he believes his players will improve next season when they can use their experience of winning the title to push forward.
Only Neil Lennon and Aiden McGeady from Strachan’s starting XI in their last SPL game – a 1-0 win over Motherwell – were first-team players at Parkhead before the former Aberdeen player arrived in June 2005.
He told the Celtic View: “For some of them it’s their first time in this pressure situation, they will be finding strange things happening to them.
“It’s only when you deal with your first championship win, you realise these things are normal for a championship-winning side.”