Neil Lennon: Reasons for optimism

This is the beginning, not the end” was the defiant declaration by Neil Lennon after a 4-0 thumping of Motherwell in the final game of last season. The impressive, normally title-winning points haul of 92 points, wasn’t enough to pip Walter Smith’s Rangers to the post.

Barely within 10 games of the new season; 10 points behind Rangers and clawing desperately at Europa League competition, it’s been one disaster after another and already the more hysterical supporters are questioning Lennon’s appropriateness for the job. A fourth SPL title in a row for Rangers is unfathomable, and given the apparent gulf in resources and Ally McCoist’s relative rookie status, the performances so far have not been acceptable.

Steve McLaren’s availability has piqued the interest of the rumour-mongerers and no-doubt the tabloids, as has previous managerial target Owen Coyle’s unstable position at Bolton Wanderers. The convoluted searching of the board during the summer of 2010 fuelled the notion that Lennon was only ever grudgingly given the job, which doesn’t allow for much leeway during the (current) bad times. The goodwill that came with being a bona fide on-the-park Celtic legend along with the brutal off-the-park madness last term, seems to have been sapped. It is the fickle nature of some fans.

Were they clambering over themselves to tell us “We are all Neil Lennon” 9 SPL games ago? This is an incredibly early stage of the season and talk of chopping and changing the manager is premature given the following reasons for optimism:

The only way is up

By any stretch of the imagination, this is a trough in Neil Lennon’s managerial stint. Consider the 8 match SPL winning streak at the tail end of the 09/10 season, which continued 8 matches into his second (and first full) season in charge.

Even great sides suffer troughs in form, but given patience and support will lead back to the peaks. Currently the trough is Mariana Trench-esque – but there are undoubted signs of improvement. The defending against Udinese was solid and composed, and despite mostly having the better of the match away to Hearts, a momentary lapse in concentration from Ki, combined with fine attacking movement led to Skacel scoring. The second goal was tactical and silly – as highlighted in the match report – exposed at the back, chasing the equaliser with ten men. But the defence is improving.

Injuries hampering progress

Lennon’s luck this season with injuries has made Rangers squad look healthy. Long term lay-offs for (Player of the Year) Emilio Izaguirre, Thomas Rogne, Cha Du Ri, Kelvin Wilson and Scott Brown have set the back-drop for more short-term niggles, such as to the influential pair of Joe Ledley and Beram Kayal (amongst others).

As the first-choice players are drip-fed back into the match squad, performances and results are surely to improve.

Points gap/fixture schedule

The points gap could feasibly be reduced to seven points, and with 28 games remaining is by no means insurmountable. Not when there’s evidence to suggest the team is capable of a 16 SPL game win streak. But equally, Ally McCoist has not been faced with two of the toughest fixtures in the schedule – (Glasgow Derby) away, and Hearts away. Essentially away trips to two of last seasons top three. Will there still be a 7 point difference after those fixtures?

(Still) just the beginning

A manager’s mettle is tested during the darkest times, and every team suffers at some stage. How will rookie manager Ally McCoist cope when the chips are down? He is untested. Neil Lennon meanwhile will point to 3 areas of improvement (aforementioned form, injuries, fixtures) with a proven track record of performing in the SPL. The 16 win streak between season 09/10 and 10/11 is effectively unheard of – and that run with theoretically a weaker squad.

To paraphrase Alex Ferguson, the sole criteria for a successful manager is to be in the running for the title come May. Lennon will meet that target.

 

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About tictacticuk

Football fan and commentator of all things Celtic FC.
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8 Responses to Neil Lennon: Reasons for optimism

  1. Vini says:

    Good article.

    Although the mention of “apparent gulf in resources” is maybe not 100% accurate.

    I believe that “their” first eleven is still more expensive than ours.

  2. Good article – I wish I could share your optimism that things will Improve. I agree that injuries have cost us badly, but I don’t really see evidence that our defence is getting any better – I fear for us as soon as team starts to attack us. Regarding the fixtures – the next run of games are winnable, but I fear the fragility of the team and the Thursday/Sunday schedule will end up killing momentum. The big issue is of course what happens to Lennon. While I agree that him leaving at the moment would be an error, it does seem we are maybe just one more bad result from Lennon perhaps considering his position. Lennon’s comments yesterday – that if things don’t improve he’ll walk and more tellingly that he doesn’t know if he can give the players back the self-belief from last season, strike me as the words of a man who isn’t going to be in the job for long. And then we’ll be back rebuilding once more. The cycle of failure has to stop at Celtic – I hope Neil Lennon is the the man to end it – but it looks unlikely at the moment. Hail Hail.

  3. chas says:

    The simple truth is lennon hasnt sorted the defence.he bgot wilson from forest reserves.he does not look the part.samaras was given a contract BY LENBON after onw good game…we have been abysmal in second halves of games against rangers,hearts and saint johnstone.his tactics and subs all seaon have been dreadful.injuries did not lose us points against rangers and the saints.he picks the players,he sets out the tactics .do u honestly think he is the man to turn this around?????.i dont…in lennon we trust…..not any more…

  4. paranoidandroid says:

    I didn’t want NL to get the job, because it’s no job for a rookie manager. However, I dont see any point in him going. He’s just the latest victim of the farce we call a financial policy. I also hope he learns from his mistakes and becomes a good manager.

    On sunday though, he seemed to make the same mistake again that cost us dear many times last season. Am I right that he played with two wingers against Hearts’ five man mid-field ?

    If he did, I really wish he’d stop doing it. And I really wish he’d stop blaming the players every time he makes this mistake. How can two men compete against five for a whole game. It’s not lack of fight from the players; it’s bad tactics from you Neil. If I was a player, I’d be getting really fed up with his failure to take responsibility when his tactics dont work.

    Well I’m at it, I wish he’d ditch the “half-zonal” marking. It doesn’t work, either.

  5. Michael Richard says:

    You’ve once again written a calm, level-headed analysis of the situation and I agree on just about every point. But I feel we’re in the minority and NL won’t have many opportunities to get things right before he either leaves or is pushed.

  6. tom says:

    Disagree with a lot of this article.
    Fickle fans?So we should accept being European fodder and the fact that Neil has rarely won a match that counted?
    Being 2nd in a two horse race with a playing system that’s clearly badly implemented no matter wether 4-4-2,4-5-1 or 4-3-3.
    The only thing Neil showed was motivation and that has clearly gone.
    He has constantly blamed the players for his own failings.
    I see no evidence based on his tenure that he can suddenly turn into a masterful coach or tactician.
    We have a decent squad but lack the leadership and expertise to turn them into a TEAM.

  7. Celtic says:

    Good article. It’s no real surprise that we’re not finding it easy with key players out, especially after a European game and I agree we shouldn’t listen to the doom-mongers; we will strengthen as we recover from these injuries while rangers will weaken as injuries hit them and weaken further at the transfer window, and I am confident we will strengthen then.

  8. Grammar Nerd says:

    Criteria is plural. Criterion is singular.

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