This article was written by Ryan Brown, a freelance sports journalist and passionate Celtic supporter.
You can follow him for more Celtic insight on Twitter @rbrown_99.
After Celtic released their interim report for the second half of 2020, Chairman Ian Bankier, was quick to bang the Covid drum as to why one of the report’s ‘operation highlights’, is the club sitting in second place in the Scottish Premiership.
He isn’t the only one though. Manager Neil Lennon has relentlessly refused to accept any personal responsibility for the calamitous season unfolding before our eyes, instead it’s been excuse after excuse.
It began with Boli Bolingoli and that fateful trip to Spain before Covid ruled players out of the October derby against Rangers in which the remaining squad failed to notch a single shot on target.
The lack of supporters in grounds is another favourite – despite the fact it’s probably kept him in a job – along with dodgy pitches, more cases of Covid after that Dubai trip and of course the throwing of players under the proverbial bus.
As a certain winger nears a return to the first team after five months out, the Celtic manager’s recent troubling quotes, from a long line of them, are about how much this struggling team have missed James Forrest, apparently.
When asked about the 29-year-old’s return last week, Lennon stated that there was ‘absolutely, no question’ that he would have changed the outcome of this campaign. [Daily Record]
James Forrest – a modern-day Celtic hero
Before ripping through this Neil Lennon nonsense, it’s important to acknowledge the modern-day Celtic hero that is James Forrest.
After looking certain to leave in the summer of 2016, he was transformed by Brendan Rodgers from a pacy wide man with little end product to a fully-fledged goal-scoring forward.
The stats speak for themselves.
In the five seasons before Rodgers came north of the border, going back to the 11/12 campaign, Forrest contributed 52 goals and assists, not bad. But from season 16/17 up till now, that figure is 127, more than a doubling in his goal involvements. [Transfermarkt]
Add to that an incredible haul of trophies – nine league titles, five Scottish Cups and five league cups – making him the joint-seventh most decorated Celt ever, alongside Jimmy Johnstone.
However, much like Covid and the lack of fans in grounds, his absence is by no means what has caused this shambles.
After 34 minutes in the Europa League third round qualifier against Riga in September, the Scot picked up that ankle injury that has seen him play no part since.
Despite only playing 10 games, he could do nothing to stop the Ferencvaros humbling and the first dropped points of the season away at Kilmarnock.
Going back to the manager, forgive me if I don’t have great confidence in him getting the very best out of Forrest as he played at right-wing back on a number of occasions in the 3-5-2.
Furthermore, the 14 goals of Mohamed Elyounoussi despite the stop-start, multi-positional use of the Norwegian shows another real talent that Lennon simply can’t get the best out of. [Transfermarkt]
The two most ‘successful’ parts of Celtic’s campaign so far, the current run of five wins and the form around the festive period, have both coincided with the use of the 4-4-2 diamond, a shape that would likely see Forrest sitting on the bench.
Like I said, the absence of one player on the pitch cannot single-handedly change a season, but one man who can, is the one in charge of all 11 of them.
Celtic have made avoidable mistakes
Troublingly, a look to last season shows that none of this needed to happen.
Despite the runaway leaders across the city still without a league defeat, the results after 29 games show a total of eight points dropped from four draws.
Over just about the same period last year, albeit Celtic ended the shortened season with 30 games played, they had drawn twice and lost twice equalling 10 points dropped meaning that based on last year’s form, the Champions would only be two points behind Rangers with eight games to play and two Glasgow derbies to come.
If you’re somehow still in any doubt that change at this club wouldn’t have made a difference, then there you are.
Excuses don’t hide the facts, the Celtic board and management have only themselves to blame.
You can follow the author of this article, Ryan Brown, on Twitter @rbrown_99.