After the victory over Rangers, Stephen Russell gives his thoughts on Neil Lennon and why he thinks he should not be manager next season.
I love Neil Lennon, I really do. If he was the man to lead us to the fabled 10 in a row, I’d be ecstatic. The problem is that the derby showed exactly why he isn’t that man. After a lineup that drew immediate questioning, Lennon’s substitutes left a lot of us, myself included, scratching our heads wondering just what exactly the Irishman was up to. We did, as we all know, get the win in the end, but how long will late goals prevail; how long will this Celtic team’s talent bail out a manager who isn’t the right fit for the job?
In terms of passion for Celtic, Neil Lennon is perfect and you can’t fault the man for heart. If you cut him open, I’m sure he’d bleed green. However, this is where the decision gets tricky. As I mentioned on the new Cynic feature, What If, the next two seasons we face as a club are enormous and, if we get to 9, the last season will be a roller coaster of emotion. Can we trust Neil Lennon to remain composed? I’m not so sure that we can. We have to look at the appointment of a permanent manager with a clear lens and judge Lennon solely on his managerial dexterity and whether he really is the best person to progress the club. It would be insulting to suggest Lennon is only worth a mention for being the ‘easy option’ but it would not be in the best interests of the club to put him before other candidates based on how much he loves Celtic.
The Right Changes?
Should Lennon have strolled the derby, I’m sure this conversation would have a very different feel to it but the truth is that he didn’t. I do think we deserved to win but if Rangers had held on, or even scored a winner, it would’ve been hard to say they were lucky. From the initial announcement of the team sheet, I was sceptical. Kieran Tierney has struggled for fitness since returning from his hip injury, having to return home early from the Scotland squad. I myself am in no position to judge whether the young star was ready to play or not but when our only viable replacement for him, Jonny Hayes, is starting alongside him, I was worried. My fears came to fruition when Hayes, for whatever reason, was hooked at half time for Scott Sinclair and Tierney then went on to pull up injured and had to come off. An early sub was wasted and we were forced into a ‘left back Lustig’ situation because of Lennon’s risk-taking. Not a position we should ever be happy to be in.
Another substitute was made upon the on-loan Liverpool winger, Ryan Kent, equalising against us. Olivier Ntcham made way for Tom Rogic – two players that hadn’t played since returning from injury and are also still fighting for fitness. Given Rogic’s naturally more advanced position on the field, and lessened ability to track back, this opened us up for a 20 minute onslaught from Rangers that had me fearing the worst. Our midfield had been opened up to a side that had just been given a huge burst of momentum. From almost being in cruise control in the first half, we went to a position of desperation. Thankfully, Edouard kept his cool long enough to turn and slide the ball to Forrest for what would ultimately be the winner but, looking back at the Hearts and Dundee games, these late heroics are starting to become commonplace and that is a dangerous habit to be caught up in. Of course, 3 points on the board is 3 points on the board, regardless of how they got there, but every result becomes a battle and a risk. Aberdeen at home is a perfect example of when it doesn’t work. Maybe we were spoiled domestically under Rodgers but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive to keep that going.
While we can’t entirely judge Lennon on one game, it was almost universally accepted that it would be pivotal in deciding his fate at Celtic. It’s a lot of pressure. Pressure that is only going to be ramped up in the next two seasons. It’s a tough situation to be in, knowing how critical the game would be, but that’s the level at Celtic. For me, despite the win, he didn’t live up to expectations. The slow and painful passing around we’d become accustomed to under Rodgers wasn’t eliminated but rather just moved upfield, nearer the opposition box. Defensively, Rangers set up their deep ranks after going down to 10 men and we couldn’t seem to breech them at all. We still looked short of ideas. It took Boyata coming off injured leaving us with 10 players to draw Rangers out enough so we could score.
We won because of a tactical error from Steven Gerrard, we won because Rangers overextended themselves when the goal wasn’t coming and refused to try and hold us for a draw. While it still takes a level of quality to capitalise on this and get the winner, it’s an important distinction between outmaneuvering them and preying on their mistakes. It gives me doubt that Lennon can consistently best Gerrard tactically and that worries me. It’s the same doubt that will have Rangers thinking they can beat us for the league next season and it’s up to Celtic to make sure that doesn’t happen.