| 5.1°C Belfast

How Neil Lennon defied supporter concerns to lead Celtic to brink of historic ten-in-a-row

 

Close

All smiles: Neil Lennon celebrates after Celtic were awarded the Scottish Premiership

All smiles: Neil Lennon celebrates after Celtic were awarded the Scottish Premiership

PA

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

All smiles: Neil Lennon celebrates after Celtic were awarded the Scottish Premiership

The celebrations, by way of both necessity and circumstance, were muted. However, following a long trawl and what was an anxious wait for Celtic, a ninth successive league title has been declared to the Parkhead club.

Acute controversy over a season halted due to the horrendous impact of Covid-19 and the semantics involved over a team being 'awarded' the Premiership as opposed to 'winning' it, at the end of 2019/20 with eight games remaining, will rumble on for certain vexed parties. Nevertheless, for Neil Lennon, this is a precious moment of quiet jubilation.

Yesterday, the Northern Irishman had his hands on the big prize, with the SPFL concluding the term in which Celtic possessed a 13 point lead over rivals Rangers. There is no mistaking the understandable degrees of grievance, particularly from Ibrox and at now-relegated Hearts - who knows exactly how the shifting sands of sporting fate would have been if the term were to eventually be completed - but Lennon appreciates that one of those hands is already on the outer edge of history. For it is in Glasgow's east end where a 10th title features highly on the radar; a quest at clinching a new record in Scottish football.

Celtic supporters celebrate 9-in-a-row title success in west Belfast Close

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hundreds of cars on the Falls road in west Belfast celebrate Celtics title win on May 18th 2020 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

 

Lennon, from Celtic's perspective, is, as the legend goes, the cherished son who answered the call for the second time in February 2019. The former Hoops captain, through no fault of his own, found himself in a strange place in the immediate aftermath of last season's Scottish Cup final victory over Hearts.

Delighted in fulfilling all the obligations asked of him - steering Celtic to an eighth title following Brendan Rodgers' sudden departure to Leicester City and adding the cup for another domestic treble - Lennon would have been clearly conscious of swirling dissent from significant sections of the support in relation to his permanent appointment.

Such voices now comprehensively extinguished, Lennon's personal satisfaction of this latest title, and Celtic's 11th successive domestic trophy, will be vast.

"I'm feeling brilliant," said the 48-year-old. "I know vintage Celtic fans have seen it before (under Jock Stein) but for those like James Forrest and Scott Brown it's especially great for them."

The season was not without concern for Lennon, but as a boss of real stature these days, answers were somehow extracted for occasional wrinkles affecting his team.

If we go back to a mad, frenetic night last August when, after a blistering start to the Premiership, Celtic uncharacteristically self-destructed at home in the Champions League third qualifying round to Romanian outfit Cluj, early concerns were directed at the manager. Prospects for the season, especially with ambitious, invigorated Rangers under Steven Gerrard for company, were debated.

Lennon helped steer a potentially precarious mood back to a more natural environment, the Europa League - and the side which went on to defeat Lazio in Rome was a master class.

Close

Last-gasp: Celtic players celebrate after their dramatic victory against Lazio as Olivier Ntcham fired in an injury-time winner

Last-gasp: Celtic players celebrate after their dramatic victory against Lazio as Olivier Ntcham fired in an injury-time winner

Getty Images

Last-gasp: Celtic players celebrate after their dramatic victory against Lazio as Olivier Ntcham fired in an injury-time winner

 

The timing of the winter break in January proved not only to be fortuitous for Celts - beset with a sudden mini-crisis having lost to Rangers at home - it also highlighted Lennon's increasing dexterity as a coach.

Certain ingredients, previously patented by Rodgers' 'Invincibles' were tweaked, and a refreshed Celtic segued into a more varied, dynamic force. Lennon picked up on the need for his men to move the ball quicker in the final third, and with the successful rehabilitation of Leigh Griffiths to help Odsonne Edouard up front, the Glasgow giants went on to chalk up nine victories and a draw. Indeed, having demanded more goals compared to title number eight, the often hard-to-please Celtic chief spoke regularly of how much he enjoyed the zesty style.

On a personal level, Lennon has already reached his own magic 10. Having overseen a fifth title in charge, at the start and end of Celtic's heralded sequence, it rather neatly fits alongside the five league medals he won as a player.

The ex-Northern Ireland midfielder can enjoy a summer of comparatively gentle adjustments, with most of the Hoops' squad on lengthy contracts and the knowledge that 28-goal Edouard is likely to remain for the foreseeable future and, in Callum McGregor, having perhaps the most versatile operator Celtic have had in the modern era.

Yesterday, Lennon singled out other, influential, figures regarding nine-in-a-row: predecessors Rodgers, of course, and Ronny Deila. More importantly now, however, are Forrest and captain Brown, who have been at Celtic since this drive started in 2011/12, and the personification of the extraordinary mental toughness.

Although fresher faces such as Christopher Jullien, Kristopher Ajer and Jeremie Frimpong have been denied an opportunity to properly celebrate pitch side in front of the supporters, there is every chance they will enjoy more league glory, like their manager.

"Relentless" as Lennon suggests, is an apt description of both his own, and Celtic's, inexorable mood.

Belfast Telegraph