Neil Lennon's likely Celtic situation after another defeat; on to Sunday
It’s the hope that kills you, they say.
Normally it’s an idiom applied to following the Scottish men’s team. However, Celtic’s particular brand of cruelty has killed the enthusiasm of supporters.
Neil Lennon wouldn’t have expected us to beat A.C. Milan tonight. Nor would the vast majority of Celtic supporters, or any neutrals watching.
However, the sheer lack of confidence that players are exuding at the moment will be of immense concern. Once again, Lennon’s Celtic have blown a comfortable lead. The demeanour of the players after going 2 up was bizarre, and Milan’s comeback seemed an inevitability.
Here to stay, for now
Lennon will be the Celtic manager going forward. It doesn’t seem to matter what fans think, the board are backing their man to the hilt. That’s their wont, and they have every right to do so, no matter what we say and do about it.
The Milan tie won’t have moved Celtic supporters one way or the other in terms of the manager. Those who want him gone will still want him gone, and vice versa.
If Desmond and Lawwell are going to back Lennon in their words, they’ll need to do so in their actions. The January transfer window could make or break our chase for the 10. Although the board’s outlay in the summer was impressive on the face of it, key signings either haven’t played or haven’t impressed.
Nick Hammond has as much to prove as Lennon on this front. The board are clearly putting their trust in the existing structure. If they believe their own statements, they’ll provide the funds.
The question for everyone concerned with transfers, though, is how to improve this team.
Mind over matter
This Celtic side look afraid. None of us in either fan-led or national media have the info as to why that is so suddenly the case.
It’s conjecture, sure; but you have to imagine something is happening, or has happened, behind the scenes that has shaken the first-team squad. That might not be Lennon’s fault whatsoever, and there’s only so much a manager can do in any number of scenarios involving workplace politics.
The Celtic legend carries the can for the performances, though. If there’s a discipline issue, or an inter-squad feud, that has to be nipped in the bud. There’s no way that Celtic’s negative body language and tendency to capitulate has come out of nowhere.
Bad form happens, sure. However, this decline feels like unusually dramatic, especially for a club like ours. Clearly, there is enormous technical ability in this team, we showed that in the first 20 minutes against the Serie A table toppers. Mentality, as much as the quality of opposition, was our undoing.
To his credit, Lennon is trying things
As much as team selection has baffled supporters, Lennon has at least shown tactical flexibility and courage in some of his decision making. Starting Christie and Frimpong on either side of an attacking 3 was a positive decision, and it worked to some extent.
Having tried to dictate play through the middle to no effect against Ross County, Lennon shook it up. In our first tie against A.C. Milan, he saw 3-5-2 wasn’t working, and Lennon shook it up. Our left side was weak, Bolingoli went AWOL (Herald), Lennon signed Laxalt (BBC) on loan.
His decision making has been mixed, but he’s at least unafraid of making those decisions. His mental fortitude during this spell, however misguided, is to his credit. Not once has he claimed to be even near quitting. He has confounded the press with his insistence that we’ve played well at times over the last 11 games.
Whether it’s delusion or steely determination despite all evidence, you’ve got to say fair play.
Ifs and Buts
If the perfect managerial candidate becomes available, of course we’d still prefer Celtic to pull the trigger. Top coaches tend not to be out of a job in December, though. Pochettino, Howe, a hologram of Willie Maley and whoever else we’re linked to will find more lucrative opportunities elsewhere, one would suggest.
There is so much work to be done on this Celtic side, and it looks like it’s Neil Lennon who will be doing that work. This is not a board who are quick to sack managers. Although the likes of John Barnes and Tony Mowbray could legitimately feel aggrieved watching Celtic this season, Desmond and Lawwell will most likely stick rather than twist.
The anger is redundant at this point. We’ll just have to try whatever nebulous ideas of “backing” Lennon are floating around. The most important prize this season is not yet beyond us.
We’re where we are due to a variety of factors, but we’ll follow faithfully through and through.