Neil Lennon insisted that he and his players had answered their critics as Celtic defeated Rangers 2-0 yesterday to extend their lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to four points.
Doubts remained about Lennon's ability to handle the big occasions after his side lost 3-1 at Parkhead in the first Old Firm fixture in October and failed to make it past the first hurdle in two European competitions with defeats to Braga and Utrecht.
Despite regaining top spot in midweek following their win over Motherwell the Hoops went into the game as underdogs as they held just a one-point lead over Rangers, who have two games in hand.
But after a comfortable victory at the home of their rivals, Lennon warned Celtic now have a strong foothold in the race to take the title back from Rangers, who will need wins in both their games in hand to reclaim top spot.
"It's always difficult to come here but I thought we took everything Rangers threw at us and came back in spades at them and wore them down. In the end we were maybe capable of getting more goals," said Lennon.
"I thought we were very good and professional and going forward we were dangerous. I think everyone, from what I have read in the last week or so, had written us off and given us no chance so the players have answered a lot of questions.
"I think I have answered a lot of questions considering people point the finger and say we don't win big games. It is always going to be pointed at you until you win a big game. We've certainly done that and we've done it with a bit of style as well.
"Hopefully it is a turning point for the players. We're not getting carried away with things and can't be complacent but what we've done is give us a real good foothold in the title race."
At Ibrox, Georgios Samaras came in from the cold for only his second start since October to score twice as Celtic gained revenge for their defeat in October. Samaras opened the scoring in the 62nd minute with a breakaway goal before he won and dispatched a penalty after being brought down by Madjid Bougherra as Celtic started 2011 with their first win at Ibrox since December 2008.
"His movement for the first goal and the composure was great. He got a lot of confidence from the way he started the game anyway but he got a lot of confidence from the goal," the Hoops manager said.
Samaras eyes new contract
"We know he's capable of doing that. He just needs to find that consistency and maybe that role suits him best. We know he's got fantastic attributes. It's just getting it into him psychologically. He doesn't want to leave the club and I think he has done himself no harm regarding a new contract.
"He's had a wee bit of the eye of the tiger about him the last week or so. We know he's capable of putting in that kind of performance and I'm so pleased he did it today of all days. He's a good pro but he needs to be more consistent and he knows that. We will just try and keep working to get the best out of him as you can see what a player he can be."
It was the Greek striker's first league goals of the season and he looked to be heading to the exit door in the January transfer window due to his inconsistent form. But Lennon is hopeful Samaras, who is out of contract in June, can use his goals as a springboard for his season and tie up a new deal at Celtic Park.
Rangers captain David Weir urged his players to hit back. "It is all about winning games and time will tell what effect this defeat will have on us," he said. "No one knows what will happen in the future but we need to pick ourselves up and get started again."