THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

9 November ~ The last seven days have been a rare good week for Celtic, bringing victory in the Europa League against Rennes and over Motherwell in the SPL. But it is a mark of how priorities have changed that the former was considered a bonus while the latter was seen by many as the game Neil Lennon had to win to keep his job. Because Celtic are 12 points behind Ally McCoist’s Rangers. It wasn’t meant to be like this. For most of the second half of last season we played a passing game that generally got results. The persecution of Lennon strengthened club unity, and he was beginning to look like a decent manager in the making.

We started to dominate Old Firm games from the new year onwards. This was to be Rangers’ season with a rookie manager, and with a massive financial black cloud hanging over Ibrox Celtic should have been the only act in town.

But while Rangers have dropped just four points in 14 league games so far, Celtic have displayed a level of inconsistency that is usually a guarantee of losing the SPL. So where has it gone wrong? Most accusatory fingers are pointing at our defence, with good reason, even though we conceded fewer goals than anyone else last season. We can’t mark set pieces, and that’s just the tip of our capability for defensive disaster. But we’ve also failed to score in three league games this season, which isn’t Dan turning-circle-of-a-Gary-Caldwell Majstorovic’s fault.

Until recently I was pinning most of our problems on our inability to break down defensive, well-organised teams. Then we visited Kilmarnock, who play as wide open as the American prairies. This is what we need, I thought: a nice open game will suit our pseudo-Arsenal passing style. Killie put three past us in the first half.

So we can’t defend and we can’t always attack. And there’s more. We’re too inexperienced: both in the management team and on the pitch. It’s now obvious how over-reliant we were last season on attacking full-back Emilio Izaguirre, who’s out injured for six months. Our other key players have – to a varying degree – been frustratingly inconsistent. We seem to be buying players for potential sell-on value rather than to win games. While Rangers new boy Carlos Bocanegra slots straight into their defence, we still have no confidence in our centre-backs.

It’s no surprise that we still look more likely than Rangers to drop silly points, making the embarrassing prospect of them winning the league in spite of potentially going into administration ever more likely. I don’t mind a levelling of the playing field in the SPL. I’d be happy with a return to the open league of my childhood. I welcome dramatic games against Motherwell. But not while Rangers – with their dastardly tactics of playing experienced players in key positions – are still winning pretty much every league game. Mark Poole

Comments (10)
Comment by tshamilton 2011-11-09 17:14:19

Agree with your desire to see the playing field in the SPL level out a little (even if, speaking as a Rangers fan, that means the title moving out of Glasgow!)

I wonder if Celtic has some disharmony in the dressing room though. I've never been a fan of Neil Lennon, but I've recently noticed his penchant for isolating a player who's made mistakes after a loss. Where Ally McCoist has spoken using 'we' (ie We could have defended better, etc.) Neil Lennon has named the defender and made an example of them. I know which manager I'd prefer to work under.

Comment by markrpoole 2011-11-09 17:22:04

A lot of our fans were pleased with the way he made it clear the team would have to do better after we were dumped out of the cup by Ross County.

But yes, it's obvious you've got to strike a balance with criticising your team and I have wondered more than once since then if he's got that balance wrong.

If I wasn't so busy listing our failings in the article, I would have mused on the fans' opinion of Lennon's managerial capabilities. In my opinion we're currently showing him more patience and understanding than we would if he wasn't such a key ex-Celtic player and hadn't gone through what he went through last season.

Comment by ChrisBud 2011-11-09 17:51:46

Neil Lennon is a chronically poor manager. I cannot see how, had it not been for all the off-field nonsense, he would not have been sacked by now. To perform so poorly with so much money to spend - in relative terms - and with a Rangers in financial turmoil as the only credible opposition is simply embarrassing.

Fortunately for Lennon, the smoke-screen of persecution remains and somehow he remains in a job. At least last season, he was up against an excellent manager - I'm not sure the same could be said this year.

Comment by Coral 2011-11-09 18:14:01

Oh good, another story about Scottish football. Bad enough in England that I have to watch the scores for that league. Now the one purpose it serves of slightly padding out my accumlator at weekend by having a Rangers and Celtic win is starting to decline...

Comment by markrpoole 2011-11-09 18:27:47

You don't have to watch the Scottish scores Coral. Maybe you could keep a copy of When Saturday Comes on your coffee table so you could have a quick look at it when the Scottish scores finally roll round, after you've been riveted to the Vauxhall Conference results. There's an interesting article in it this month about Islam Feruz leaving Celtic on the cheap...

Comment by Coral 2011-11-10 11:16:31

I don't plan on time travel anytime soon, and if I did manage to high tail back in time I very much doubt I would spend my time watching Vauxhall Conference scores. I would be busy betting on the times that Rangers and Celtic did lose and raking it in.

The article does sound good though, I like it when WSC do those stories from odd foreign outposts. I can get a feel for other leagues outside those of imediate interest...

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-11-10 12:57:25

Don't sweat it, Mark - while those of us in the Govan enclave of the Fixed-Odds-padding Championship (First time I've heard of someone supporting a league rather than a club but good luck to you, Coral) are obviously happy with the way things are in the SPL at the moment, it's very, VERY early days. Rangers were seen to be similairly coasting to the title as late as Christmas last season before a couple of late goals against St Johnstone at Parkhead and a Samaras-inspired derby win at Castle Greyskull had your mob fully reinvigorated.

Despite his long service at Walter's knee and a squad used to winning titles, Ally is still a new manager and our current gaffer's start is frighteningly similair to the one made by yours when he took over: Long, unbeaten run in the SPL, including a home win in his first Old Firm game, knocked out two different European competitions at the first attempt and a humiliating defeat to a First Division club in dark blue jerseys in his only domestic cup match.

Yeah, it'd be big giggles for Bluenoses to win the title with a ten point deduction for going into administration, especially if we ultimately pipped Celtic on goal difference. But wee assety-strippy Craigy Whyte seems determined to put us into Administration - the big tax bill wasn't so much an obstacle to his takeover as the central reason for it - and we might end up with a wee bit of civil war down Edmiston Drive if he does it one second earlier than he needs to.

HMRC must, of course, give Rangers a £10M rebate and apologise for any inconvenience caused but should it transpire that the tax man does not in fact live in a cuddly conspiracy theory but the real world, we could be getting hit with a £10-£20M bill. I, for one, would rather see this paid for by the sales of Jelavic, McGregor and Davis in January than have any truck with any kind of administration. The result for Celtic, however, would be the same - Rangers losing those guys in a car boot sale would in fact give you more than a ten point boost. And even if we win the tax case - probably the most likely outcome given how much hysteria it's created - our personnell is still on the wane.

Naismith has been utterly sensational for the last year and, though I was shocked he lasted as long as he did, I was actually beginning to forget he was so injury prone. He'll be a massive miss. Davis is even better on his day but no-one gave the consistent level of performance Naismith did game in, game out. You've seen yourself how Kayal's injury then slow return has affected Celtic's drive. But he's coming back into things for you now.

And while Europa League football may have proved a drain on resources on a week-to-week basis for Celtic, the financial benefits will be clear in January's transfer window and the fitness benefits should become manifest around the same time. I'm a firm believer that teams need two competitive games a week up til Xmas if they're going to last the full length of the marathon - against St Mirren at Ibrox we visibly wilted as the match progressed, unable to finish it off. Had Celtic been playing against fully motivated first XIs in your Europa League group then the defeats could easily have had a negative long-term effect. But you've not been humped and are now picking up draws and wins - it will make your players sharper and more confident.

One of the criticisms levelled at Lennon's managerial ability was he didn't know how to respond to set-backs - lately it seems he's been doing nothing else. In fact I feel the only reason you dropped two more points at home to Hibs is because that was the only recent game in which you haven't conceded first. Motherwell had barely been out your half for the first 11 minutes on Sunday - the moment they scored it was game over.

This, as well as our loss of a late equaliser to St Mirren on the same day, recontextualises the 3-goal comeback at Rugby Park to be seen as just that - not a dropping of two points but a comeback, a turning point. It's always a seemingly risible draw which swings the SPL this century. Of course, one more embarrassing defeat for Celtic and it'll be recontextualised again but I feel Rangers could have been rid of Neil Lennon a lot earlier had we banged in one more at home to St Mirren. Your 0-0 with Hibs at Parkhead would have finished him.

More sober judges than me are saying Rangers fans should hope Lennon lasts out the season as any replacement coming in to Parkhead now will probably do a better job in pegging Rangers back. But I'm afraid to say I'd rather go down to a Celtic coached by someone less enamoured of the John Reid-Peter Lawwell "mind-set" than win the SPL over Neil Lennon's hoops. Last season was the first time I've ever wanted Celtic to lose the title as much as I've wanted Rangers to win it - not a nice feeling and one I don't ever again wish to experience.

But he's not gone yet.

Comment by ChrisBud 2011-11-13 14:27:59

Alex Anderson - Rangers were lucky to come away with a point against St Mirren - the equaliser may have been late but it was the least St Mirren deserved. It was never a question of Rangers failing to "finish it off".

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-11-15 14:02:09

Chris ya bud - I think yer being a tad over-sensitive there, mate. Your team played fantastically well that day and came away with a great result (There - now a Rangers fan is saying you should be delighted with a point at Ibrox. I bet that sounds patronising :-))I Don't believe in luck. Good or bad. Rangers weren't lucky but neither were St Mirren - the result was a draw and that's all that counts, whether the goals were scored in the first minute or last: We were clean through on your defence about four times in the last five minutes as your guys tried like hell for an equaliser and left yourself a bit short at the back. I watch Rangers every week so I anlyse where I think my team went wrong - that day we were clearly tired. This is not an excuse - this is, if anything, even more of a condemnation of my team and a de facto compliment for yours. Our failure to "finish you off" is a failure in which St Mirren played their fair and glorious part.

Comment by Alex Anderson 2011-11-27 15:12:37

If I could just refer you back to my first post in this thread, Mark.

Aherm

... TOLD YE!

Celtic away to Killie get a point, Rangers at home to St Mirren get a point - Lennon's a disaster, Ally's still a genius.

Month later, Celtic slaughter St Mirren at home and Rangrs get zip at Rugby Park - give t a day or two and the tabs'll forget Lenny was ever doubted.

Long, long, LONG way to go.

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