Shunsuke Nakamura has warned Celtic there is no more room for error in the Scottish Premier League title race as the defending champions head into the crucial part of the season which will determine whether they achieve their aim of securing a fourth successive championship.
Celtic were trailing at this stage last year but a run of wins allowed them to pip their main rivals Rangers to the trophy on the final day.
The Hoops once again find themselves playing catch-up but this time only four goals separate the arch-rivals and Nakamura is well aware of just how costly one more slip could be to either side.
"We need to do a lot to win the league," the Japan international said. "The players know that and the manager knows that. There are so many things you need to do to win the league.
"Experience tells us that this stage of the season always has a massive say in what happens come the end of the year when the prizes are being given out," Nakamura added. "Last season, Rangers were ahead and we had to catch up.
"We got there slowly and, in the end, we were champions. That only happened because we started winning our games. It's the same this season. Now is the time when we can't afford to make mistakes."
Nakamura is determined to add to his collection of winners' medals before a possible return to his homeland when his contract expires at the end of the season. But he is refusing to take anything for granted. "Am I confident? I don't like being too confident about things. I prefer just to concentrate on the games and focus on getting points.
"Confidence is different from being hungry for success. I want to win the title this year, just like I wanted to win it for the previous three seasons. That feeling never leaves you when you play football."
Nakamura played a huge role in Saturday's 7-0 thrashing of St Mirren, helping himself to a hat-trick as Celtic slashed Rangers' superior goal difference from 10 goals to just four.
The possibility of the league being decided by the narrowest of margins cannot be ruled out but the midfielder insists Celtic must focus on winning games first and foremost.
He said: "Goals will be important but it's about getting a balance as well. The most important thing is getting three points in games. Not just goals. If we get the points, then that's the most important thing. We can't go into games thinking we need to score lots of goals. If we do that, then it puts added pressure on us. We just have to concentrate on winning games."
Celtic had been criticised for their lack of goals in recent weeks and, despite the rout at the weekend, not one striker was on the scoresheet against Saints.
But Nakamura said: "I'm not worried about the goal side of things. I think we are playing well and making chances.
"We just need to add the final touch. I know we were being criticised for not scoring enough goals but it's not just about the strikers. We all have to play our part. We all have to help out – the defenders, the midfielders and the strikers."Reuse content