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Appointing Lennon permanently puts Ten In A Row at risk

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A treble is a pretty impressive feat. A treble-treble is cause for a massive blowout.

One wonders though whether Celtic's decision to announce their intention to keep Neil Lennon as manager, just minutes after the Scottish Cup Final finished, will have enhanced the celebrations or tempered them?

Back in mid-February, when Brendan Rodgers suddenly legged it for Leicester, bringing Lennon in as 'a safe pair of hands' made sense. With the club eight points clear in the league with just eleven games to go, he knew the club well and could be relied on not to do anything daft with the team...though it could be argued even I (and possibly even Ronny Deila) could have guided them over the line.

It was Lennon who got them there though, winning the title by nine points and adding the Scottish Cup to the bargain. His record since returning: fourteen matches, ten wins, three draws and just a single defeat. That certainly seems to justify keeping him in the dugout.

And yet.

That nine point gap to second place is the smallest in the Eight-In-A-Row era. The gap between Celtic and the rest is already narrowing, and whilst some of that is because Rangers are finally beginning to justify some of the huge outlay on their squad it is also because Celtic are not the force they were during the first 18 months of the Rodgers regime - though the December defeat at Ibrox seemed to have shaken both the manager and the players out of a bit of a slump.

But results have been satisfactory Celtic simply haven't passed the eye test in the last three months. The Scottish Cup Final was a microcosm of his second tenure. They struggled to break down an organized, motivated opponent. Flair players were starved of the ball and unable to find pockets of space in the way they did in Rodgers' day. Attacks became predictable - either through Jonny Hayes on the left or hopeful high crosses from deep. And eventually after a scare they pulled through only via a very late winner.

Too often the starting eleven have looked ill-equipped for any surprises sprung by the opposition...or even for the opposition full stop; there was nothing particularly out of the ordinary about Hearts' shape or strategy and yet seemingly little thought had been put into counteracting it.

These ponderous starts are now a habit. In fourteen matches they have scored only six times in the first half. Aberdeen, Livingston and Hibernian all managed to keep them out for ninety minutes - the former two at Parkhead, where they did manage to scrape past Kilmarnock 1-0. Only in the last 10 minutes did they find winners against Dundee, Rangers and Hearts (twice).

The two derbies provide the most concerning evidence for the Celtic support. At Celtic Park the home side toiled against ten men despite going a goal up; a Rodgers side would have gone for the jugular but instead they looked cagey and allowed Rangers back into the match. When James Forrest struck the winner with four minutes left you would not have confidently said it was with the run of play.

Far worse was the post-split return game. In ordinary circumstances, with the title won, one could forgive some casualness but against Rangers at Ibrox? Lennon himself criticized his players' performances and attitude. Cynics pointed out whose job it was to motivate them.

In spite of this the club have decided to keep him. The most obvious reason is that they couldn't find an alternative they were happy with. It could be argued that the chances of finding someone of Rodgers' calibre were minimal (with hindsight, the fact they had a coach of his reputation and ability for two and a half years is astounding) and memories of Deila, a high-risk, unproven candidate who proved to be more John Barnes than Jose Mourinho, are still too fresh.

There's also less than seven weeks until the Champions League qualifiers start, and so not much time for a new man to get his ideas across. And maybe a summer of clever recruitment and of retuning the players to the way he wants them to play will get Celtic firing on all cylinders again. After all, Lennon proved in his first spell at the club that he can set up a team - Barcelona, anyone?

But then there's his recent work. He has displayed little nous on the touchline this time around. His departure from Hibernian wasn't down to results on the park but he left them eighth in the league with just two wins out of fourteen. And it seems incredible that with three months to scour the globe, the board couldn't come up with a better option than the in-house candidate - or at least one whose football philosophy is more akin to the one left behind by Rodgers.

And 2019-20 is likely to be a pivotal season for Celtic. Last season they were reminded what it means to miss out on Champions League riches - a £20million hole that has to be filled through player sales and difficulty recruiting quality players as well as retaining them. Each time they miss out, their financial advantage over domestic opposition - particularly to Rangers - decreases.

And most gallingly, they are so close to the mythical Ten In A Row that they can almost taste the despair of Rangers fans. It seemed a sure thing as long as Rodgers was at the helm. Now, there is cause for others to believe they can stop it...and for Celtic to start doubting they can pull it off.

Lawrie Spence has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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