There are now 50,000 reasons why Neil Lennon must be relieved of his position at Celtic
There seems no escape from the inevitable for Neil Lennon and this Celtic team following their, scraped, 1-1 draw at home to St Johnstone. They are both buried by the blizzard of numbers that point to the club scarily regressing to where they were when Tony Mowbray was relieved of his position in February 2010.
Forget 10-in-a-row - any points gap, never mind a 13-point chasm, is insurmountable to a team that cannot win games – mere respectability seems elusive for Celtic. It can be no other way when their abominable run now stretches to two victories in 12, in which there has only been one clean sheet, and which has witnessed five straight home games without a success for the first time since 1958.
For the first time, in his post-match Lennon seemed resigned to this being the end of the line for him. The rut has become too extensive, too permanent. He didn’t say so explicitly, but his words betrayed an acknowledgement that however much the Celtic board might want to continue to back him, there are now now solid grounds for doing so.
Moreover, while it might have been the lunatic fringe of the Celtic support that have gone to town on him for months, and were behind last week’s unedifying protests and recent banner call-outs, the entire rank and file of the club’s 50,000 season ticket base would make no case for Lennon remaining in charge.
A truly sad state of affairs for a man who has given so much to Celtic across 20 years, the fact is - as he also seemed to recognise in his sobering post-match - he is deriving so little from a squad of players that does, on paper, still look the best in the country. Lennon lamented the lack of urgency, fluency, confidence, verve, penetration, imagination, pizazz that once again afflicted Celtic. He could have gone on and on, and on and on, because the Parkhead side are devoid of every ingredient required from a successful team.
They might easily have lost, indeed, after once more softly opened up with Chris Kane stroming into the box to force in a cross from the left driven in by Stevie May in the 78th minute. As was the case in the League Cup loss to Ross County a week before, teams just don’t require to work too hard to pick Celtic apart.
It wasn’t enough that Celtic dug out a curious equaliser four minutes later, with Ryan Christie’s hoisted ball into the box back-headed by Mohamed Elyounoussi, as he faced away from goal, before looping up and over Zander Clark. The Norwegian had only been introduced a minute earlier. He was the last throw of the dice for Lennon, who had been then already chucked on Leigh Griffiths, David Turnbull to get something going in the final third. They had bits and bobs, with Clark saving well from a Ryan Christie header, a Turnbull drive and Christopher Jullien heading over from a scoreable position.
However, there was no concerted pressure applied. Celtic’s ailing has left them plodding and – as Lennon admitted - inhibited. They are unable to find an edge, find higher gears, find a way as once was their trademark.
Indeed, there were stages in the first period where they looked as if they would struggle to fashion a spark in a match factory. There was no questioning their industry, and they had decent shape in their 3-5-1-1 formation. What they were singularly devoid of, though, was invention and intensity to match their industry. These were the qualities Lennon’s men were crying out for in confronting a team so compact and comfortable suffocating opponents. The fact that Callum Davidson’s men were unbeaten across 90 minutes in their past 10 outings made them far from the side Lennon would have handpicked for an encounter in which a victory was an absolute must.
The recent results between the pair were irrelevant. That is because a 16-game sequence without a victory over Celtic for the Perth club, and in which they leaked an incredible 48 goals, never found them up against a Parkhead side so devoid in so many respects.
The teams’ previous nine meetings haf passed without St Johnstone even scoring a goal, It was little surprised the visitors eventually ended it, but even in the early minutes they came mighty close to doing so Nir Bitton was forced to head a May drive off the line.
This ninth minute scare came after neat interplay from Rogic and Edouard that ended with a shot from close in by the Frenchman deflecting into the arms of a prostrate Clark. Another two occasions Edouard could not conjure up a finish when through on goal in the opening half. Yet, the story of it was not Celtic’s bluntness but their inability to find ways through the congestion that St Johnstone funnelled them towards on the edge of their penalty box.
It stayed that way for much of the second period, Lennon’s men so anodyne and flawed, it has almost become second nature. Something sure has to give. There are no excuses, no mitigating circumstances, no appeals for calm and patience that cut it anymore. Celtic’s season is the sort of astonishing wash-out that can only but be a flood carrying away the club’s manager.
Celtic: Barkas; Bitton, Jullien, Ajer (Elyonoussi 81); Frimpong, Rogic (Turnbull 68), Brown (Griffiths 59), McGregor, Laxalt (Taylor 46); Christie; Edouard. Subs: Bain, Klimala, Soro, Ntcham, Elhamed.
St Johnstone: Clark; Rooney, Gordon, McCart; McNamara, Bryson (Craig 87), McCann, Tanser: Wotherspoon, May, O’Halloran (Kane 27). Subs: Parish, Kerr, Hendry, Melamed, Ferguson, McFarlane, Denham
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