A FURIOUS Neil Lennon has accused his players of behaving “like spoilt kids” after he saw the Parkhead side again blow their chances of a treble with a defeat at Hampden Park.
Eight straight wins and clean sheets against St Mirren since a 4-0 loss in March 2010 had established Celtic as firm favourites to face Hearts in the final of the Scottish Communities League Cup. But Danny Lennon’s team were deserved victors and Charlie Mulgrew’s late goal to make it 3-2 only served to flatter Celtic.
St Mirren, who have reached their second League Cup final in three years, took an early lead through on-loan Portuguese striker Esmael Goncalves before Gary Hooper equalised for Celtic on the stroke of half-time.
Mulgrew then saw a penalty saved by Craig Samson just after the interval. St Mirren took great heart from this boost and scored twice more, through a penalty from Paul McGowan and Steven Thompson’s fine volley.
It meant Neil Lennon has once again seen his hopes of landing a treble as manager extinguished. At least his side got as far as the final last year before being frustrated in this aim. “The treble is gone, we have only ourselves to blame,” said Lennon. “Criticism will come our way and rightly so.” Lennon placed great emphasis on the missed penalty from Mulgrew after 49 minutes. He confirmed that Mulgrew was the designated penalty-taker before the match, but he is clearly angry at the continued difficulties being experienced by Celtic from 12 yards out.
“We got a penalty and, for some reason, Charlie wants to side-foot it when I want him to put his laces through it,” said Lennon. “I am sick to death of us missing penalties. I am sick of it. That was the game-changer.
“Our reaction was poor after the second and third goals. There was a lack of discipline in our shape and in our play. Some of them behaved like spoilt kids out there. I dealt with it in the dressing-room and I am not going to speak about it again to the players. We have to get ready for another big game on Wednesday [against Kilmarnock].”
Asked about the mood of the dressing-room afterwards, Lennon said: “They are bitterly disappointed. No-one said a word, they had no choice but to listen to me. We have three more games before Juventus [Champions league last 16]. That’s as poor as we have played domestically for a long, long time.”
Lennon made it clear that he was not pinning the blame on Mulgrew, who also conceded the penalty which saw St Mirren take a 2-1 lead when he was penalised for raising his hands to block Gary Teale’s cross. No-one, he said, emerged with pass-marks, except perhaps Gary Hooper, who scored his 23rd goal of the season and also hit the bar.
“Charlie Mulgrew is the best dead ball player I have seen for a long, long time, certainly in Scotland, maybe in Britain,” said Lennon. “But I was amazed he side-footed [the penalty]. I thought he would have whipped it or put some power in it. I would be interested to see what the stats are for missed penalties in my time here. But I am not pointing the finger at Charlie. There was still a long way to go in the game. I was bitterly disappointed with our performance.
“It was soulless, it lacked intensity, it lacked desire and it lacked will to win, all the attributes this team has shown in the last six to nine months. I don’t know where this performance came from. We did not start well, so we changed it after 10-15 minutes and looked better. We hit the bar twice, but that happens. We scored a good goal. We looked a lot more like ourselves when we came out in the second half.”
And, after a third straight defeat at the national stadium, Lennon conceded: “It seems to be a bogey ground but this is the worst we have played,” he said. “I could take losing to Kilmarnock in the final and in the semi-final [to Hearts] last year, because the performances were decent. But that was awful today, from what I perceive to be top-class players. Maybe I need to look at this week in the window, and change things.
“I would like to congratulate [St Mirren manager] Danny Lennon. He’s a good guy in the game.
“But when your team does not turn up, there is not a lot you can do. I don’t want to take anything away from St Mirren and their day. However, I cannot be too enthusiastic about our own performance.”