Leadership posted missing
Lennon says he can’t defend the indefensible after humiliation
put in a cheap shot and Brown was enraged that he was getting away with it. In that moment, he lost the plot. Couldn’t see straight for all the red mist. As he walked away from the incident, Brown shouted over at Mertens: “I’m going to f****** kill you.” It is entirely plausible that the referee heard what he had to say. It was a near-certainty that Lennon did, for shortly after, he removed him from the field for the sake of the team.
Celtic were 3-0 down in the early minutes of the second half. Their goalkeeper and both their centre-halves had been culpable in the concession of two penalties. Their right-back, Cha, was looking anxious. Their entire midfield was being pulverised. One of their centre-forwards, Georgios Samaras, looked disinterested. The other, Marc-Antoine Fortune, was running about like a man who knew he was heading for a new club, West Brom, first thing the following morning. In short, Celtic needed a commanding presence to pull this disjointed side together in a time of crisis. And they didn’t have one.
Yesterday, at Lennoxtown,
“It’s as sore as I’ve ever felt. I’m fed up coming back from Europe and mybackside spanked”
we’ve looked at and tried to change for away games, but it’s manifested itself again in all departments.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a curse or a hoodoo or anything like that. It’s a new management team and new players, but the same results and the same level of performance. I would have thought they’ve got a good mentality and I still think they do. It’s probably too early to judge them as a unit. It was very important to the club that we had a European run but I am not going to make any knee-jerk reactions, even though the performance was poor. They have to get used to the culture of the British game and adapt to the environment but from what I’ve seen domestically so far, they’ve done okay.
“But it’s a different quality of opposition in Europe and that’s what we need to reach. We didn’t look like a team last night. We looked like a team of individuals.”
Of course, that is precisely what they are. Lennon has changed the team dramatically and is now into double figures in terms of new players since the end of last season. His purchasing has a touch of the indiscriminate about it at this stage. A Honduran fetched-up on Friday and something was made of the fact he had played for his country at the World Cup. Yes, well, so did a lot of people and plenty of them were rubbish. Edson Braafheid played in the World Cup final and yet couldn’t hack it in the SPL.
Lennon has added masses of players, but has he added character? Where are the leaders? The go-to men when Brown’s running around like his hair is on fire? Daniel Majstorovic looks a possibility, but who else? Beram Kayal? Efrain Juarez? Ledley? Cha?
Celtic are a liability away from home in Europe. That’s not Lennon’s doing. It’s a problem that stretches back years and covers 29 games on the road, only one of which they have won. Twenty-four losses out of 29 and 58 goals conceded at an average of two a game on foreign soil. It was with a barely-concealed smile that an official from Utrecht said on Thursday: “We knew about Celtic’s record away from home. It’s not good.”
It wasn’t good when the team was settled and it wasn’t likely to be good now that the team is up in the air, in the early stages of a major rebuild. That’s the only crumb for Lennon. That the horrors of Thursday were down to the unfamiliarity in the side.
Lennon will cling to that thought and hope the ordinary challenges that await him and his players in the SPL will help redeem his reputation as a manager. After all, there is a precedent here. When Celtic lost 5-0 to Artmedia Bratislava in Gordon Strachan’s first game in charge, the reaction went thermonuclear. Strachan was presented as a chump who didn’t know what he was doing, yet he won the SPL that season and Artmedia didn’t seem to matter so much after that.
Same story with Walter Smith. Two seasons ago, Rangers got dumped from Europe by Kaunas and yet Smith ended the season as a hero of Ibrox on account of the SPL title returning there after three seasons at Parkhead. Last year, there was calamity in the shape of Unirea and Sevilla, yet he was lionised after another SPL title came his way.
Lennon got a kicking on Thursday. As history has shown, he can make the memory go away by winning the SPL. Europe is beyond them, but domestic success may be within their grasp. But his captain? There are issues there. Many, many issues.
James Forrest, Cha du-ri and Shaun Maloney trudge off after Celtic surrendered