Celtic boss Lennon in defiance of mindless minority
Kilmarnock 0 Celtic 4: “One Neil Lennon, there’s only one Neil Lennon,” came the chant as the Celtic fans rallied around their troubled boss last night.
The former Northern Ireland international cut a defiant figure as he masterminded a convincing 4-0 victory at Kilmarnock’s home, Rugby Park.
The Lurgan man was left in no doubt that supporters were standing shoulder to shoulder with him at a time when he has once again become the victim of sectarianism.
It emerged yesterday that Lennon has become the target of a nail bomb intended to maim or even kill the Celtic manager.
All eyes were on the 39-year-old who was never far away from the shadow of a policeman but it was no conincidence that the demonstration of support came after 18 minutes — 18 being the number Lennon wore as a Celtic player in his pomp under Martin O’Neill.
The mood before the game was peculiar as many supporters were still digesting the news that Lennon, a lawyer and a politician had been sent parcel bombs.
Strathclyde Police launched an investigation after the parcels “designed to cause harm” were sent to Lennon, Paul McBride QC and Labour politician Trish Godman.
But the away fans behind both goals made their feelings known to Lennon and their support was acknowledged by the former Celtic and Leicester City midfielder.
Lennon could have chosen to steer clear of the spotlight but he chose to send out a message that he wouldn’t be intimidated by his enemies.
The victory sees Celtic close to within a point of leaders Rangers and boost their already superior goal difference.
Lennon’s men have played a game less than Walter Smith’s side who they face on Sunday.
Celtic assistant boss Johan Mjallby described as “madness” the latest security fears around Lennon, who also had bullets sent to him earlier in the season along with Northern Ireland and Celtic duo Paddy McCourt and Niall McGinn.
Mjallby said: “He loves being manager of Celtic and we are lucky to be working for a club with such great support.
“I heard the fans and it was great because what happened to him was madness and a shame, and it shouldn't happen to anyone whatever they do in life.
“He probably had a wee tear in his eyes because the supporters showed so much that they cared for him.”
Mjallby added: “We noticed a bit more security but obviously the players know what is happening, they have seen the papers and watched the television but we have been quite good at letting the football do the talk.
“He is still the same guy. He has a lot on his plate and it's a shame that it's happened but I haven't really seen a change in him.
“He is in a good mood. Sure, it has been hard for him but he is a strong character and very good at making sure that the players are the main thing.
“Football is a release, he loves his job and this was the best way for the players to show their appreciation for him and the best present for him now, the three points.”
A Kris Commons double and a Gary Hooper strike had the points tied up before the interval, with Anthony Stokes scoring a fourth at the start of the second half.
Commons admitted the off-field issues surrounding his boss was something new to him.
“It is getting out of control,” the former Derby midfielder said. “It is nothing like I have ever seen.
“The players are fully aware of what's happening off the field but as footballers we have to concentrate on the job in hand and you saw tonight that we are committed to the cause.
“Neil was the same as always and it was the perfect preparation as you saw tonight. He hasn't changed anything with what's happened off the field, he is very determined and very confident.”
Kilmarnock caretaker manager Kenny Shiels believes Lennon’s troubles helped galvanise the players and support.
“There were influential factors in the way Celtic played and the manager must be very proud tonight,” the former Ballymena United and Coleraine chief said.
“They got an early goal which set the standard for the rest of the evening. When I heard my reaction was disappointment and sympathy for him, he is in the same profession as I am and I don’t want anything to happen to anyone. I know if I was playing for someone, I would be doing my utmost to show I was supportive of him and that's exactly what the Celtic players did tonight.
“It's the best performance that I've seen from any team this season in the SPL. They were crisp in their passing and clinical in their finishing, it was a massive performance and we couldn't get near them at times. I don't want to take away from the quality, they produced that because they have that in them.
“There was so much energy emanating from the Celtic support. If I was a neutral I would have thought the Celtic support were fantastic.
“I have never heard the Celtic support like that. Not only were the players supportive of the manager, the supporters played their part too and the quality they produced was the icing on the cake.”