It felt like the start and not the business end of the season. There was optimism in the air and a sense of unknowing excitement. The sunshine added to the start of season feel but the biting wind was a reminder that we were still blinking out of winter into spring.
The ground was sold out to welcome back a man whose Celtic credentials can never be doubted or questioned. We were in optimistic mood and that was before our rivals had dropped points the previous evening but, by five o’clock, that had disappeared and the fraying lace that is the Celtic support was in serious danger of losing a shoe.
The game itself started off well. We dominated the first half without creating anything of real note. We threatened to be good but couldn’t quite manage it. What changed the perception of the game were the half time changes.
Losing Ewan Henderson in the midfield allowed Graeme Shinnie and Lewis Ferguson to take control, as the game became scrappy. They both had more energy than Scott Brown and Nir Bitton who were over-run without an extra midfielder in there.
Scott Sinclair was withdrawn and this stopped the positive contribution of Kieran Tierney as he dropped out the game. Mikey Johnston and Odsonne Edouard like James Forrest, Oli Burke and Timo Weah all struggled to make any impact and the constant changing of positions seemed like trying to force life into the method, rather than having a method to break down a stubborn defence superbly marshalled by Scott McKenna.
This was a game where the fact that we were missing Calum MacGregor, Tom Rogic, Ryan Christie and Olivier Ntcham really showed. No matter how talented our front line is, without the craft and guile of a number ten to find them, they were rendered blunt.
We have won games without these players but that doesn’t mean that we also didn’t miss them during those. All games are different and in the games we have found solutions to win we still missed their talent. Missing talent is an allowable excuse.
I read a tweet which said that Saturday was the type of game that Brendan Rodgers would have won. A subjective view of the situation, but you can only look at the players we had available and wonder what would he have done differently?
The options were limited and there have been many other games this season where we have dropped points with similar performances. Having Rodgers in the dugout wouldn’t have guaranteed three points but I will admit having Rodgers, rather than Neil Lennon, in the dugout would be better for us over the course of a season.
I wrote for Fansbet that we needed a supply teacher to see us over the line and that is all we have. The victories over Hearts and Hibs were to be enjoyed, the draw against Aberdeen disappointed but at no time did I ever think that Neil Lennon will have passed or failed his audition due to these results or that any decision will be made on the back of them.
Lennon is there to manage the current situation. A situation where the players are feeling the same sense of loss and insecurity as the fans. All we have to lose is a good mood for a few days but they have to manage the fear of where they will be working next season. Celtic has deemed Lennon the man to manage this situation.
That he hasn’t brought any of his own staff in tells its own story and is the correct decision. Ensuring that we win the league is the bare minimum that is expected of him and of any Celtic manager when each season kicks off.
He could lose a cup tie, we have been phenomenal in the last two seasons but the chances of having an off day, a decision going against us or a luck running out means that these ties are 50/50 and the power brokers at Celtic know this as well as you and me. Losing a league is a disaster with our resources and point advantage, losing a one-off game can happen.
The interim part of this deal is fact. We can all surmise that Lennon is in the box seat but that shouldn’t and won’t stop the club looking at options and planning for a future that will bring sustainable success. Our financial receipts are at record levels after appointing a top-end manager and that will be a major consideration for those who are making the decision.
That’s why we are being linked with guys like Marco Rose, Roberto Martinez, Andre Villa Boas and David Wagner and considering a Sporting Director appointment. These discussions have to take place and I’m glad that they are taking place.
Going for a possible ninth title in a row might keep season ticket sales up but will it keep them at record levels with Lennon in charge? The benefits of appointing Rodgers were clear to see both on and off the park.
The only thing we fans can bring to the table is support. The last three home games have seen swings in mood. Against Valencia and Aberdeen the crowd got nervous and nippy after a few misplaced passes. Motherwell felt the rage of the full support after binning the Corinthian spirit for selfish gain. I know what atmosphere benefited the players.
And that’s all we can do. Be there to benefit the players and the interim manager and hope everything else works out right in the summer.
That’s the only short term truth that holds weight.
Kevin GrahamListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast