Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

Stephen Craigan: Lennon right to slam his Celtic Bhoys

Steven Thompson and his St Mirren caused a massive upset

Football always throws up surprising results and that’s why we are all so intrigued by the game.



On the eve of Sunday's Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final at Hampden Park even the most ardent St Mirren fans would admit they feared a heavy defeat against the all-conquering Celtic.

The recent statistics hugely favoured Celtic in the build-up and made them overwhelming favourites, but somehow the St Mirren players managed to produce a performance that belied their season so far and won 3-2.

Bear in mind in the previous eight meetings between the sides Celtic had won them all scoring 22 goals in the process without reply.

So what happened for it all to change?

Well, when you play a team who have better individuals than you, there are many characteristics you need to show as a team to compete and ultimately beat your opponents.

To close that gap in quality you have to play a high tempo game and every player has to be at his best — the St Mirren players delivered on both counts.

You have to break down mental barriers and convince yourself you can win and clearly as the game went on the St Mirren players grew in confidence and actually looked like they were enjoying the game.

That may sound silly but believe me when you are hanging on in a game it normally isn’t enjoyable if you’re constantly getting over run but St Mirren looked in control.

Their body language oozed confidence and they restricted the Celtic attack and took real pleasure in doing so.

Craig Samson in the Saints goal was terrific and his penalty save from Charlie Mulgrew with the game poised at 1-1 was the turning point. That gave his side a great base to build from and they shone.

For Celtic it was another disappointing day out at the national stadium. They have now lost on their last three visits to Hampden Park and the chance of a domestic treble has disappeared.

A lot of Celtic's big players just didn’t perform, Gary Hooper didn’t look like a £10 million player, Charlie Mulgrew wasn’t his usual assured self and Victor Wanyama's performance wasn’t that of a player Neil Lennon once jokingly valued at £25 million. That’s what will disappoint the manager.

Celtic looked laboured in possession and short of ideas in the final third which shouldn’t be the case with the array of attacking talent they have in their ranks.

Complacency is a word that is commonly used when favourites lose unexpectedly and the Celtic players didn’t show enough urgency or intensity to dispel that myth.

They should know how being written off can motivate a team because they experienced it against Barcelona and proved everyone wrong.

Lennon certainly didn’t miss his players after the match in the press as he questioned their hunger and leadership and called it a soulless performance. The biggest slight on a players’ individual performance is your application being called into question and that will have hurt the Celtic players more than the defeat itself.

The sign of a good team or good players though is how they respond to adversity and Lennon will be looking for a big performance tonight against Kilmarnock at Celtic Park in an SPL fixture.

The expectation at Celtic will never dwindle and if any player didn’t realise that before Sunday’s game they will now.

Let’s give credit to St Mirren though as their game plan was excellent and they deserved to win. I do, however, expect the Celtic players to bring out their frustrations on the upcoming opponents, so beware!

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