Belfast Telegraph

Why Celtic boss Neil Lennon must pass his first big test

By Steven Beacom

It was must see television. You couldn’t take your eyes off the screen as the man from Lurgan coldly savaged his players in front of the cameras.

For me it was the moment that Neil Lennon arrived as Celtic manager.

Yet for Lenny it was the one which he thought would end his dreams of getting the job on a permanent basis.

Celtic had just been humbled 2-0 in April in the Scottish Cup semi-final by little Ross County.

The previous month Lennon had taken charge of the Hoops on a caretaker basis following the departure of Tony Mowbray.

Despite numerous big names, with much more experience, being linked to the vacancy, Lennon felt winning the Scottish Cup and ending what had been a desperate SPL campaign on a high would earn him a crack at the post full-time.

He would go on to lead Celtic to the latter but failing to achieve the former cut him to the bone.

And he let the Celtic players know it.

“Whether I'm here or not next season, I told them I'm pretty sure some of them won't be,” he said with menacing intent after the Ross County defeat.

“I'm way past angry. It's been a pretty shambolic season. Let's not mince our words. We've gone out of every competition with an absolute whimper.”

It was brilliant, one of the TV moments of the year.

While Lenny may have felt it was his final opportunity to tell the under-performing players a few home truths before his short reign as boss ended, his tirade actually had a positive impact with Celtic winning every remaining league game.

Even though Rangers still romped to the title last season, that finish earned Lenny the job he craved with the powers that be believing his passion, desire and knowledge of Celtic could turn the club around.

The fact that he was going to be a cheaper option than many other managers mentioned didn’t do him any harm either as he was appointed on June 9.

Entering his first full season in charge at Parkhead the former Northern Ireland midfielder was full of belief, and unlike several of his predecessors was enjoying good relationships with the Scottish media men.

With financial uncertainty at Rangers and key players moving on from Ibrox, Celtic fans were starting to have a good summer.

That was until last week when Celtic were hammered 3-0 by Portuguese outfit Braga in the Champions League.

It was a shocking result and pitiful display. Worse than Ross County for Lennon because this was his team now, not Tony Mowbray’s.

That result may have depressed supporters, but there is a genuine belief and not just grand-standing from Lenny that his Bhoys can pull the tie back in the second leg at Celtic tonight.

They better had — for the manager’s sake.

If Celtic go out of the Champions League and lose the potential millions the competition can generate, the pressure will be intense on Neil.

And he’s already facing some serious heat in the goldfish bowl that is Glasgow.

Losing to a sub-standard outfit in Europe’s biggest competition, however, just brings problems on yourself.

Lennon knows that under the lights at Parkhead home players can be inspired and visitors intimidated.

Score early and I fancy Braga will be there for the taking and Lennon’s stock would rise amongst the Celtic faithful if a remarkable comeback is completed.

Go out, though, and even at this early stage of his managerial career, questions will be asked.

And Rangers fans will be laughing their socks off feeling that the greenhorn gaffer won’t unduly bother Walter Smith’s dreams of winning trophies in his last season as Ibrox boss.

Either way the post match interview is sure to be compelling.

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