Neil Lennon fails to take key opportunity to apologise for Celtic's poor campaign
Today’s AGM was both disappointing and underwhelming for many reasons, but Neil Lennon himself missed a glorious opportunity to be open and honest with us all.
Celtic have managed to get some sort of form back over the last week with two big wins against Lille and Kilmarnock respectively. But it hardly repairs a dent of the damage done by what’s been a horrendous first four months of the season.
The Hoops have already been knocked out of the Betfred Cup at home to Ross County and find themselves 13 points behind Rangers in the Premiership (with two games in hand). Even if those games are won, it still reads at seven points. We also failed to get past the second qualifying round of the Champions League whilst we finished bottom of our Europa League group.
You can also look at Neil’s summer signings and you do well to find many successes. Turnbull looks a bit of a find whilst Mohamed Elyounoussi is contributing some decent numbers, but that’s it really. Albian Ajeti, Vasilis Barkas, and Shane Duffy have all disappointed so far this season.
Today was a massive opportunity for the manager to hold his hands up to the shareholders and general Celtic support. A chance for him to admit that just about nothing has gone to plan so far this season. A chance for some humility.
For some reason, Neil just couldn’t show it. Instead, he said the following this afternoon as quoted by the Daily Record:
“It means everything to me to turn things around and there are signs of things really improving. We’ve lost players to Covid, there’s been some anxiety from the players, overthinking their play.
“We look at the physical data and it’s the same as last year. We’ve been antsy in the final third.
“I‘ve told players about turning seasons around. Players need to buy into that, it’s a huge motivational factor. Chasing it down is very exciting for us. I believe I can do it, I’ve contributed five titles.”
Data means absolutely nothing
Yes, Neil has to look to the future and show that he’s positive about it. If he didn’t do that then we would all be slamming him for looking miserable and failing to see any signs of optimism.
However, some acknowledgment of how bad things have been would’ve been nice. It would’ve followed the two recent wins well and would’ve given us all an understanding that Lennon knows how poor we’ve been.
He’s just too defensive at times and it showed again here. How many titles he’s won before now doesn’t matter. This is 2020 and he’s in the biggest title fight he’s ever been in. The way our rivals are going, Celtic’s points haul from 2012, 2013, and 2014, and 2019 likely wouldn’t be good enough to win the league this season either.
Talking about physical data and all the rest of it means absolutely nothing if we’re going out to Ross County at Parkhead and losing 2-0. The manager discusses us being a bit “antsy” in the final third, but it’s actually been our defensive play that’s cost us massively this season. The fact the 2-0 win vs Kilmarnock was our first clean sheet in 10 games tells its own story.
Don’t blame Covid or make it seem as though we just need a wee tweak here or there to get us going again. We need to find a level of consistency that this group of players haven’t come close to producing this season. It’s time to acknowledge the size of that task and embrace it.
But at the same time, it would be nice if the manager would stop putting the shield up and defending what’s been going on earlier in the season. Had he admitted how badly things have gone, held his hands up to the shareholders today and said: “I apologise for the recent results, our work hasn’t been good enough all-round and we need an instant improvement”, you could understand that.
But once again you’re left wondering whether Lennon has actually been satisfied with the graft put in this season despite the results. He needs to turn things around and quick – two wins is nothing in the grand scheme.