“There’s nothing to panic about.”
Those were the words delivered by a composed Neil Lennon following his side’s second domestic loss of the campaign.
A year ago to the day, Steven Gerrard’s Rangers inflicted defeat on Brendan Rodgers for the first time in a Glasgow Derby. That came after a solitary Ryan Jack goal at Ibrox, in a match where Celtic were woeful and Rodgers had already begun to work his ticket back to the English Premier League. 5-0 victories over Rangers seemed half a world away.
It was clear back then that urgent changes were required if Celtic were to regain the league and Scottish Cup (to add to the League Cup) for the third consecutive season. In came Timo Weah, Oliver Burke, Vakoun Issouf Bayo and Jeremy Toljan to freshen up the personnel. Soon afterwards, Rodgers did a moonlight flit and Prodigal Son Lennon returned.
That Lenny was able to complete the treble treble started by Rodgers was an achievement of epic proportions. He was rewarded with the job on a full-time basis in a decision that undoubtedly divided opinion among the Celtic support.
But even the naysayers could not deny that his Celtic side have been scintillating at times throughout the second half of 2019. The League Cup is back at Celtic Park; we are on top of the league; and the last 32 of the Europa League beckons in February.
On the flip-side, we were dreadful in the League Cup final and fortunate that Fraser Forster had the second best game of his life; we now sit just two points ahead of Rangers, with the Ibrox men comforted by a game in hand; and some of our recent league games have been distinctly uninspiring victories.
So, much like last year, we go into the winter break with a drastically-needed refresh on the cards. Craig Gordon and Scott Sinclair (two of the club’s highest earners) should be offloaded, with their wages (and more) invested in at least four new first-team players.
As the gaffer said in the aftermath of today’s defeat, there will be no panic (particularly with the cheque book) but the signings have to be far better quality than were served up last time round.
Rangers were completely classless in victory today – from their fans’ predictably disrespectful behaviour during the applause for recently departed Duncan MacKay, to their players’ provocative and threatening celebrations – but for the second successive December we have handed them the greatest moment of their entire year.
The race for this league title looks as though it will go right down to the wire and both clubs will strengthen over the next four weeks in a January transfer window which has become the most important we have entered in nearly a decade.
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Celtic did not learn from the League Cup final earlier this month. Rangers did – Putting the ball in the net wins matches. Rangers’ midfield, wide players and forwards created a circle around the middle third and strangled the game when we were in possession.
It was a frustrating afternoon watching the Hoops struggle to break down a well organised and united unit who will now go into the second half of the season with increased confidence.
December has been a long month, probably one match too long for a leg-weary Celtic squad. The winter break must yield a bit of soul-searching from a misfiring front four, a return to basic game management and focus on revitalising some big game players.
Oisin Mac CoolWatch Professor Willy Maley with A Celtic State of Mind
There are some occasions when you just have to admit that your opponents were better than you. Were tactically superior, had more effort and all the best players on the pitch were for them. Today was one of those days, but the bigger thing is now they can lay claim to having our number. Having our players’ number, having our coaching staffs’ number and, for the first time, our crown could be made of paper. It would be no disgrace to lose the league to a side that is extremely well-drilled and ruthless but it would be our fault.
The biggest disappointment for me was that there was no reaction after we went behind for the second time. The place was flat. We accepted defeat both on and off the park. It’s almost as if on this last football day of the decade we decided that we’ve had a good run.
Some days you just know, but the facts are this – we haven’t turned up in the last two major domestic games. The time, when we expected our mentality to be enough, it was no longer enough. The highs and performances of earlier in the season seem distant now. We are a tough watch and have been for a few weeks. We just can’t expect history to repeat itself. Sometimes you have to make it repeat itself.
A big few weeks.