High time Lennon ended Celtic’s Hampden hell
As Celtic get ready to face Dundee United in the Scottish Cup semi-final this weekend Neil Lennon must be wondering which Hoops side will turn up at Hampden Park.
The home of Scottish football hasn’t been a happy hunting ground for Lennon and his players since he became Celtic manager over three years ago.
They have won only twice in seven visits, losing in three semi-finals (to Ross County in 2009, Hearts in 2011 and St Mirren in 2013). Lennon will be desperate to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself on Saturday.
It makes you wonder what the issues are regarding the players and their mentality.
In most of the games they have lost, if not all of them, they have been overwhelming favourites yet they have come up short for one reason or another.
They should be accustomed to being favourites; they regularly play in front of big crowds so is it down to the lack of desire or even complacency?
Only the players can answer that but their recent Hampden record suggests they don’t enjoy playing there and Dundee United will hope to capitalise on any deficiencies.
Celtic are one point from winning successive SPL titles so everyone should be in buoyant mood and on a high leading into this game.
Having had a terrific Champions League run earlier in the campaign failure to win on Saturday, or when the Scottish Cup final comes around, I feel their season will finish as an anti-climax.
This should be a season to remember for all Celtic fans and players alike for many reasons — not least that victory over Barcelona — but they need to complete a league and cup double to provide a fitting end.
Such a feat would be the first time the club has managed it since Gordon Strachan's side completed it in 2006/2007. I'm sure that will be in Lennon's mind.
Semi-finals are usually nervous and tense affairs and this has possibly hampered Celtic in the past.
The opposition have perhaps used this to their advantage and raised their game knowing what’s at stake for them also.
For Dundee United it’s about self-confidence and, deep down, believing they can win. They will take heart from Celtic's frailties at Hampden in the past and with yet again all the focus on Celtic, United will hope to test their resolve.
Frustrating Celtic will be a key objective for Jackie McNamara and his players and the longer they can remain competitive in the match the more pressure the Celtic players will feel.
Lennon's disappointing record in Cup competitions will be eating away at him and he knows the time has come for him and his players to deliver.
His only cup success to date came in 2011 in the Scottish Cup final against Motherwell, (I should know I’ve got a runners-up medal from that game) meaning only one domestic cup win in six attempts which, for a club of Celtic's stature, simply isn’t good enough.
Most of Lennon's disappointments as a manager have come at Hampden Park and how he approaches the game will be crucial to the players.
Players aren’t foolish, they are well aware of grounds they’ve failed to play well at and venues where they’ve had disappointing results, so Neil has to convince them that if they play to their potential they will win.
Football isn’t just about having the best players; but having a positive mind-set and a steely determination to succeed is required too.
Celtic have clearly lacked that on previous occasions so it will be interesting to see if they’ve learned from past experiences or if Hampden really is a bogey ground.
Belfast Telegraph Digital