Celtic legend Chris Sutton last night claimed that the hate campaign against the club’s manager — and his old team-mate — Neil Lennon last season cost Celtic the title.
The 40-year-old was sent bullets and parcel bombs through the post, received death threats and was the victim of a trackside assault by a Hearts supporter at Tynecastle.
Sutton believes that Lennon is probably the only person in football who would have remained in the job under those circumstances.
However, he argues that the off-field turmoil must have affected his concentration on the football side and contributed to Rangers claiming the league flag by a solitary point.
“I don’t know how he put up with the stuff last season [and] I think that had an effect on where the title went,” he said.
“Did it take his eye off the ball? You’d have to ask Neil. I don’t think any of us could say it wouldn’t affect us.
“I can honestly say that if that was me then I’d have been gone.
I don’t know anyone else who would have stayed. It says a lot about his character because the stuff last season was ridiculous.”
Celtic’s 2-0 defeat at Tynecastle on Sunday leaves them 10 points behind champions Rangers, albeit with a game in hand.
Lennon said at the start of the season that he expected to be sacked if he failed to prevent Rangers winning a fourth successive title and, in the wake of the latest reverse at the weekend, he revealed that he would consider his position if results fail to improve immediately.
According to Sutton, those statements have been issued with a view to firing up his under-achieving squad.
“Neil has always been honest, that’s something I’ve always liked about him,” he said. “He says it like it is. He’s not going to lie about things. I’m not sure what he said straight after the game on Sunday because I went home. You can bet he didn’t say it was a great performance, though.
“One bad result is tough enough but two bad results with the Old Firm and it’s a disaster. Neil wants a response, that’s why he’s talking the way he is.
“I do feel sorry for him, though, because he knows what needs done. It’s up to the players now to carry it out for him.
“Managing isn’t like playing though. It’s a lot tougher. Players are reliant upon themselves so only have themselves to to blame when things go wrong.”
Even so, Sutton, speaking at the launch of his autobiography (Paradise And Beyond, £18.99), is certain that Celtic can overhaul their Old Firm rivals.
“There are still 29 or 30 games to go in the season,” he said. “That’s a hell of a long way to go — and they’re not playing against the strongest Rangers outfit by any means.
“Every player wants Celtic to be successful and win games. It’s natural that players blame each other at times but that’s the worst thing that can happen. You have to trust each other.”