WHEN the final whistle sounded at Rugby Park on Wednesday evening, sympathy for Rangers manager Steven Gerrard would have been in short supply even among the travelling fans who were quickly pouring out of The Chadwick Stand.

As you might imagine, mirth and glee was the order of the day at Celtic Park as the champions simultaneously celebrated their own thumping of Hearts and the latest slip by their rivals, but there was some solidarity with the Ibrox boss from the perhaps unlikely source of the Celtic dugout.

That's not to say that Neil Lennon is devoting a great deal of time to thinking about how the 10-point gap his team have opened up on Rangers is affecting his counterpart in Govan, but knowing as he does the pain of watching a title disappearing over the horizon as an Old Firm manager, there is at least a feeling of solidarity apparent when he considers his rival's position in what he calls Glasgow's 'unrealistic environment'.

"I can empathise to a certain degree, yeah," Lennon said.

"I've been through that myself. It’s a tough environment at times, and an unrealistic environment at times as well.

"I can’t really comment on the form that Rangers are in or what they are going through, I can only really comment on what Celtic are doing, and we're very pleased.

"There's a long way to go obviously and a lot of games still to come, tough games away and at home, but we've hit a good vein of form at the minute and that's all it is, a really good vein of form and consistency.

"You have empathy for all managers because it’s such a tough job and there's so many aspects to it.

"Everyone has pressure, it’s all relative."

On that theme, Lennon can scarcely fathom that the manager of Celtic's next opponents has recently been under pressure from his own supporters following a poor start to the calendar year.

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes will have enjoyed the welcome relief from that negativity that the three goals and the win over Hamilton brought on Tuesday night, with his side edging back in front of Motherwell in third place.

When asked if the Dons fans should be careful what they wish for, Lennon said: "Yes. He's had to rebuild a team, he's sold players, he's won a trophy, and he's had them in the top three or four for a long, long time. It hasn't always been like that.

"His mentality is strong, and with Doc [assistant manager Tony Docherty] there they are a good partnership. They do good things for the game.

"I don’t think they can do much more than [being in third place and in quarter finals of Scottish Cup] really. They had a run where they weren't scoring goals, but they bounced back with three goals on Tuesday night and it looked like an effervescent performance.

"They can do that Aberdeen, they've got some good players.

"It’s not easy getting players in during January, but he's got McGeouch in and Kennedy, who are two good players at this level.

"He's changed the system and whether he changes it back for us I don’t know, I'll have to wait and see.

"I admire [Derek]. I've always liked him, he's a good football man and he's turned Aberdeen around.

"The fact that they're not doing maybe as well as people expect him to is a credit to him rather than a criticism of him really.

"They looked a decent outfit on Tuesday night, so we've got a tough game coming up."

It may be tempting to say that all Lennon really has to worry about at the moment is the plight of these other managers, given how rosy things currently appear in Celtic's garden after a storming start to 2020.

And it is true that the formerly fiery presence that used to prowl the Celtic midfield and then the technical area has seldom been seen of late, with the older, more mature Lennon cutting an altogether more serene figure since his return to take over the club last February.

The form of his side helps him maintain that veneer of calm, even if he might be paddling like the proverbial duck under the surface.

"You feel pressure every week, you feel it going into every game," he said. "That's just the nature of the job really.

"You have to take it, you have to take the criticism when it comes, and you take on board what some people say if it is factual or realistic and ignore the rest."

Does that make it hard to even enjoy victories like the Hearts pounding on Wednesday night, with wins becoming more of a relief than anything else?

"There's a bit of joy there as well, but that's the nature of it, yeah," Lennon admitted.

"The expectations are so high, and when you get beat you have to mull it over for a couple of days.

"You know those eternal factors are there, but you just have to blank it out and concentrate on doing your job as conscientiously as you can.

"There have been a few occasions [since I returned as manager] where I might have reacted differently first time around, so I'm not that person I was maybe 10 years ago.

"Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes that's a bad thing."