The noise around Neil Lennon has been difficult to escape since August but Martin O’Neill has urged Lennon to build a wall of silence around Celtic Park.

As Rangers’ conviction grows given the start they have made to the season – their best start for 53 years – O’Neill has challenged the current squad to put on the blinkers and turn a deaf ear to the fevered uproar that will be the constant companion to this season.

If Rangers look like a different beast this term given their momentum and palpable sense of confidence as they enjoy an 11-point cushion at the top of the table, O’Neill has urged Lennon to adopt tunnel-vision as he seeks to claw back the deficit.

“Right now they need to forget about all of that,” said O’Neill. “Stop looking at what Rangers are doing and where Rangers are. You get the head down and you focus and you make sure everyone around you focused. This is total concentration now.”

One of the challenges for Lennon these past few months has been the constant murmurs of dressing room unrest. It kicked off with Leigh Griffiths returning from lockdown out of shape and unfit to the extent that he remained in Glasgow as the rest of the senior squad headed off on pre-season training while the suggestions that certain players have been reluctant to put their shoulder to the wheel because they never got the moves they wanted this summer has been a continual concern.

“We have all heard the gossip about this player and that player wanting to go wherever,” said O’Neill. “It is very difficult as a manager when you are in that situation. From the outside looking in on recent seasons, this is a squad that has been enveloped in camaraderie. If that has been eroded then there is no question there is a challenge in restoring it and bringing everyone together for a common purpose but I think Neil has the character to do that.

“The other thing you have to say is, well, they are Celtic players and right now they are in a fight for the title. On paper they are the better squad, the experienced squad who have done it before but titles are not won on a bit of paper.

“They need to come together and starting proving it out on the pitch. They were 2-0 down against Hibs before they started playing but to get it back suggests there is still a bit of heart and a bit of fight about a team that for so long has looked to have so much camaraderie about it.

“They need to take the positive from that and simply get the head down and start winning games.”

Rangers’ recent accounts show that the club’s wage bill is closer than it has been at any point in the last decade to Celtic’s as the Ibrox side look to arrest the grip the Parkhead side have on the domestic landscape.

O’Neill has accepted that the challenge this term from Steven Gerrard’s side looks authentic but he has also welcomed it as giving a boost to the Scottish league. He has reaffirmed, though, that withstanding a credible title push from Rangers is something that Celtic ought to welcome rather than fret over.

“This is the first time in years that there has been a proper threat for Rangers,” said O’Neill. “You can’t always be on top all of the time. Rangers were never going to stay in the doldrums forever – no matter what Celtic did or didn’t so.

“These two clubs are monolithic. They have the weight of thousands of supporters behind them. At some point Rangers were always going to come out swinging and this is it. If this wasn’t a season that has so much at stake in terms of a tenth successive title I don’t think you would see this panic from the support. If this was a fourth title then I am sure they would be a bit more patience.

“Rangers have invested in the squad and they have backed their manager. In a way it is all good because this makes the league stronger. Now the challenge is for Celtic to show that they can cope with adversity. That they can cope with questions being asked of them and they can come out and show the same mentality that has made them the most successful side in the country for so long.”

Lennon retains the support of the Celtic board but the fragility of his position will be underlined this week with exposure to the Europa League.

The Parkhead side have taken just one point so far in their campaign and are up against Sparta Prague tomorrow night, the team who humbled them at Celtic Park earlier this month.

There is then league cup duty at the weekend before a run of fixtures that base Celtic almost entirely at home in December – there is just one game on the road on Boxing Day to Hamilton.

And O’Neill believes that this season given the way results have panned out that the league has to take priority over the European campaign.

“I think now it is a case of getting the focus right onto the league,” he said. “You always want to compete and do well in Europe but the priority has to be on winning these domestic games and getting a sequence of results.

“You want to play well tomorrow night but the be all and end all at the minute is what happens in the league.

“There is a considerable distance still to go on this. It is total concentration and togetherness but there is no way that this is impossible. The same week that Celtic lost to Rangers I watched the game against AC Milan and I actually thought they did not too badly against a team who are sitting at the top of Seria A right now.

“You stick a full stadium of people in there and that would have been a different game.

“Right now there has to be an appreciation that Neil has the strength of character and the belief to get Celtic going. He deserves the support of those around him to facilitate that.”