Late Celtic comeback won't relieve pressure on Neil Lennon after 2-2 draw with Hibs
Neil Lennon had some justifiably strong words to say about the SFA’s handling of Under 21s players after David Turnbull was ruled out on the eve of this fixture following a positive Covid-19 test.
The problem for him is that not even Celtic fans will feel very sympathetic. Any complaints will now be interpreted as an attempt to construct a smokescreen to hide further evidence of the side’s now serious deficiencies. They have conceded 13 goals in 13 league games this season having lost only 19 in 30 during the last campaign.
A late two-goal comeback won’t necessarily provide Lennon with any respite. The injury time equaliser from Diego Laxalt thrashed high into the net might be a potentially huge goal in terms of the debate over the manager’s immediate future. But a 2-2 draw with Hibs, whatever the circumstances, won’t be regarded as acceptable by supporters very alert to the fact Rangers, who will have played two games more, can move 11 points clear as early as tomorrow against Aberdeen.
Celtic wore a new all-black strip. It seemed an appropriate colour to signify the bleak post-mortems this result will still prompt. With or without the pre-match drama over Turnbull, and irrespective of the comeback, this was bafflingly poor from the visitors. They had plenty of shots, just few that truly tested Ofir Marciano.
Lennon is entitled to expect more from what could reasonably be described as his current first choice XI – the curiously benched Odsonne Edouard apart. Albian Ajeti did precious little to justify his starting place. Replaced after 57 minutes, the fact he couldn’t even make it to the hour mark said it all.
Edouard hardly looked to be pawing the dirt in his hurry to come on, but he did illustrate why picking Ajeti over him is a very bold move in the relatively short time he was given. He twice forced good saves from Marciano before beating the ‘keeper with a well-taken penalty with 12 minutes left after Hibs skipper Paul Hanlon’s handball.
Hibs had earlier punished Celtic’s slovenly performance with two goals in the space of eight minutes near the start of the second half. Jamie Murphy steered home the rebound after Kevin Nisbet’s penalty – awarded for a needless Scott Brown push on Martin Boyle – was saved by Scott Bain.
Nisbet then atoned with a brilliant finish from wide on the left that, like Murphy’s effort, nestled in the net after hitting the far post. It took nothing more complicated than a long free-kick from Hibs to catch out the visitors’ defence
The Turnbull news dominated the pre-match conversation. Lennon, already unhappy with Steve Clarke for what the Celtic manager perceived as over-use of Ryan Christie, was furious, saying the club received very late notice.
That said, how big a part would Turnbull have played in any case? He has been seen only fleetingly. Lennon chose the same team that beat Motherwell 4-1 on their last outing. Turnbull remained on the bench that afternoon. If that result at Fir Park identified a Celtic side determined to take the fight to Rangers, this performance, which only came alive in the closing stages, and after Lennon switched to a back three following the introduction of Shane Duffy for Brown, raises more questions than answers.
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