Celtic’s lessons from OGC Nice

For Neil Lennon there remains one last opportunity to ensure he is the Celtic manager who bookends the 10-in-row aspirations of the Celtic support. It’s safe to say that today against St Johnstone will be Lennon’s last chance.

A defeat, a draw or even a fortunate win is unlikely to save him. Today needs to be a victory, and a convincing one at that, to allow Neil Lennon to continue in his role throughout December and into the Glasgow Derby on 2nd January.

The fact he has even got to this stage is down to good fortune and more than likely a board where scenario planning for a poor start to the season had been left off the agenda, such was the disregard we had for our title rivals. That and a majority shareholder apparently not wishing to react to mob rule. A precarious position for Celtic’s manager remains nonetheless.

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Neil Lennon was satisfied with parts of Celtic’s 4-2 defeat in Milan. In possession and on the front foot there were positives to take. You don’t send out a team that goes 2-0 ahead in the San Siro without having done something right in your pre-match planning. However, the old defensive deficiencies raised their heads again, and if there is anything Neil Lennon has to get to grips with and fast it is how Celtic handle themselves in transition, coping with counter attacks and defending set pieces.

But there lie deeper issues for Neil Lennon and indeed those in higher authority to deal with.

Structurally we appear lost. That has had a torch shone on it in Europe for three years at least, yet only now has it begun to impact on the domestic game.

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Surrendering the League Cup with a whimper rather than a fight and finding ourselves eleven points south of a title challenge is evidence that a downward trajectory has now impacted on our domestic dominance.

The speed we have plummeted may be a surprise, but the fact it is happening is far from a shock. The warning signs have long since been apparent as we moved from a club with European aspirations to one entirely blinkered by domestic goals alone.

Neil Lennon could ask the board to take responsibility for the lack of planning and structure but they won’t. And if they did it would allow the manager to abdicate his own responsibilities.

Neil Lennon should, despite a lack of structure around him, have enough quality players to ensure the title challenge is sustained all season and make sure we are favourites for each domestic trophy. On the back of two European exits, we are already out of one domestic cup and floundering in the league. All before Christmas.

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This week in France, French legend Patrick Viera paid the price for a poor start to the season with his job. Five straight defeats. Hooked. International legend or not. That is what Lennon will have to face unless his recovery starts today. He has a mountain to climb to not join Viera on the managerial scrapheap but he can make it beyond base camp today with a win over St Johnstone.

If he does Lennon needs to look at himself and what a manager is expected to deliver and go about taking the necessary steps to achieve those goals.

He and his team have key jobs every season. They should be improving players, be that confidence, technical ability, tactical awareness, positioning and shape or fitness. I’d suggest Celtic have been lacking at times in all of those areas.

You’d also expect the manager to provide opportunities for the young players, those chosen to remain rather than those who went out on loan, assuming those who stayed we felt had a fighting chance of making the grade.

So far, we see little game time afforded. Even when Celtic hit a slump in form there is no youthful injection, instead the same old faces simply are moved around the field or a different formation is adopted.

The last area you’d expect a manager to perform in in is in player trading. On paper the signings have been good, yet when it comes to fitting in and making an impact too few have consistently impacted games to be afforded pass marks. If Neil Lennon has the final yes or no decision on those players, and I appreciate that is a big if, then the manager and his coaching team is also being found wanting in another key performance indicator.

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And then the responsibility to act when they see the perfect storm coming lies with the board. They are certainly not expected to act in haste, but nor should they delay out of loyalty or a lack of their own planning either. It should however be crystal clear, that when the support takes to the car-park in the middle of a pandemic to encourage listening ears that something isn’t quite right and hasn’t been for some time.

Celtic face St Johnstone today. It is clear Neil Lennon will need to win this game, anything other than a very comfortable and emphatic victory should result in Neil Lennon being replaced.

The board aren’t there to be nice but they could and should act like Nice if Lennon fails to win a much win game at home to an average football team in Scotland.

And if Celtic do win today, a period of introspection as to what is expected of a Celtic manager needs to be carried out. Otherwise, we are simply delaying the inevitable

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.

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