Celtic Flattered to Deceive in Govan’s Last Chance Saloon

The tactics were right, the chances were created to win a game, but when push came to shove Celtic came up short at Ibrox today. We can all make excuses of course and many of us will. However, today’s defeat having the impact it has on the season so far was not down to this afternoon’s encounter. The foundations for the demise were laid long before today.

The fact we needed to win today to have any chance at a tenth consecutive title was not lost at Ibrox, it was defeated long before. Indeed, what the players showed in the first half in particular was just what they are capable of, it is a shame far too few were chosen – or chose themselves – to shine before today’s visit to the last chance saloon.

Photo: Andrew Milligan

Yes, the refereeing was atrocious and indeed the sending off was an opportunity a selective in his punishment official pounced upon, but in truth today was about what went before this season, not what occurred out there today. And in our heart of hearts, we all know just that.

We had chances, most of which were far from clear cut and even when we did, we came up against a goalkeeper who performed well. Our own had little to do. Our own efforts were from distance, despite turning theRangers defence on many occasions. We didn’t have the nous to convert territory gained into clear cut opportunities for strikers to see the whites of the eyes of Alan McGregor and in the end, we paid the price.

You can knock all day on the door but if you really need to gain entry, and we did today, you need to kick your way through when no-one answers. Celtic didn’t do that. We didn’t come close. We flattered to deceive.

Then in the second half the chickens came home to roost. The decision to play Nir Bitton was not without risk and nor would have been the alternatives. Had it been Shane Duffy chosen, or Hatem abd Elhamed, the chances are it wouldn’t have changed the result.

Lennon may well be criticised for playing Bitton, indeed his idiotic challenge had had previous incoming warnings against Hamilton and most notably on Wednesday against Dundee United, however in the absence of Christopher Jullien did it really matter who was chosen, disaster would have befallen whoever was picked in some guise or another.

The goal conceded was in a period of panic and insecurity. Callum McGregor’s head bowed and eyes closed approach to defending will certainly attract criticism, but in truth we were all at sea at that point.

Where a Rodgers side went to Ibrox and lost a defender and sent on French Eddy and won, this Lennon side hesitated and paid the price. There is a lot to be said for calm heads and pre planning for expected adversity, we showed none of that.

So, what now? Do we beat the drum of ‘we can still do this’ or do we accept the next 5/6 months is an opportunity to regroup with a view to this season being a lost cause, yet the next few seasons being well within our control? It seems clear we’ve overstretched, taken too much for granted from boardroom to dressing room and now is the time to reset.

For those who do not see their future at Celtic we need to draw a line, thank many for their undoubted efforts and let them move on. If there are opportunities in the transfer window to plan ahead, then perhaps we need to do just that. But on top of that decisions need to be taken.

Neil Lennon will likely be the head on the block and in truth that is fully justified, yet the core reasons do not lie with a manager alone. The Tenth title has been surrendered and the pitiful nature of its relinquishing lies in the planning or lack of it at a structural level. There is little point in sacrificing a manager without questioning the role of the man who left him with no cover. Yet that is for tomorrow, not today.

For now, we need to look within. If players who see better opportunities can be sold and money can be made it is now time to let them go and build for tomorrow. Those on the periphery, as Turnbull and Soro were little more than a month ago, need to be blooded with a view to being readied for next season’s battle.

It’s been a hell of a run. We’ve run out of steam. And much of that is down to a lack of foresight and planning beyond the responsibilities of the manager. Neil Lennon will however pay the ultimate cost as the man chosen to send the players into battle and tonight, he’ll know just that. All he can do now is begin the building blocks for the next generation and rid himself of the baggage he knows let him down.

Today Celtic must draw a line under the past and make preparations for our future. We are after all left with little other choice.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parhead's gates.


  1. Excellent article – for all our territorial/possession superiority we did not create one clear cut chance. Shooting opportunities and skirmishes, yes but no player missed a glaring chance. This “superiority” had radically declined before the sending off and there is no reason to believe we would have won the game with 11 men. Recruitment has been horrific, millions of pounds wasted and the manager does not appear to have any positive impact, in fact quite the reverse. Big, big changes needed if we are to progress next season.

  2. A fair and balanced review of the game and the persistent issues draining our effectiveness this season. At board level, a lack of ambition and strategic planning; at manager/coaching level, the right selection and tactics today but the critical damage had been done weeks ago through failing to recognise persistent weaknesses and having the courage to risk new systems and individuals; at player level, too many seem more focussed on where they aim to be next than where they are (Edouard, Ntcham, Christie, Ajer but at least Ajer maintains his standards).

    Of course we can still win this league but it is now very unlikely. So what next? Are we content to be one of the two best in Scotland, or even the best, or do we aim to be regulars at Europa post-Christmas with some success at Champions League level post-Christmas? The demography/ media revenues/power of the big euro leagues all work against us but we have the resources and support to be a credible Euro player and the ambitions, hopefully, to be able surprise clubs ridiculously richer than we are.

    Is it better to accept that this league competition is beyond us and concentrate on moving on those (at every level – board, management, coaching, playing) who need to move to new challenges and look again at the riches and potential we have in our ranks? It is madness that we have great potential at Under-20 but can’t even give them regular football. We have so many midfield players that some need to go and my list would include Christie, Rogic, Ntcham and Bitton. Make room for Soro, Turnbull of course but make space for Henderson, Connell and others.

    Barkas looks totally out of place here. COVID doesn’t help but are we failing to realise his talent or was he a bad decision? We need a commanding, reassuring keeper who inspires confidence. We had one temporarily but he chose anonymity at Southampton rather than potential glory with us – money talks. We need a solid defence. The Duffy experiment has failed abjectly and we have potential in Welsh but also need to invest assuming Ayer moves on soon.

    WE have talent stagnating in the reserves (Oko-Flex, Dembele, Harper) plus others doing well out on loan so maybe we use the rest of this season to take a risk on some of them? We’ve bought some great talent but also a lot of mediocrity. Time to trust the Development team more? Or at least organise games for them?

    Finally, we need the best manager and coaching team we can afford and let them do what they are best at. Forget “Celtic-minded” and concentrate on ability.