CHARLIE Mulgrew insists early exists from the two domestic cup competitions are not enough to classify Celtic’s season as a failure.
Celtic suffered a surprise 2-1 home defeat to Aberdeen last Saturday as they crashed out of the William Hill Scottish Cup. The unbeaten Scottish Premiership leaders had already suffered a shock slip-up in the League Cup earlier this term when they were beaten 1-0 at home by Championship outfit Morton.
But Scotland utility man Mulgrew claims reaching the Champions League group stages to take on European giants Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax and a record run of clean sheets that now stretches to 11 league games is evidence of a worthwhile season.
The 27-year-old said: “No, I don’t think the season has been a failure. Let’s not forget that we played in the Champions League this year, which is a massive achievement for this club. I know we qualified for the last 16 the year before but this time it was always going to be difficult with the group we were in. We believed we could do it but it wasn’t to be in the end. But you have got to see it as an achievement because there is still three qualifiers to get there.
“Fair enough, we have had disappointments in the cups but our league form has been very good. I think it’s been a good season overall.”
Manager Neil Lennon reacted to his side’s loss to Aberdeen by demanding they finish the job and complete their 38-match league programme without defeat. The next leg of that challenge will come at home to St Johnstone tomorrow, but Mulgrew insists the Celtic players are focusing on their Perth opponents rather than their unbeaten run.
“We’re not speaking about that too much,” he said. “It’s hard to ignore the fact we could go the season unbeaten is a possibility because people keep mentioning it. But we are just taking each game as it comes and hopefully we can win the next one against St Johnstone.
“Maybe we need something to motivate us and to keep us going and the unbeaten run can do that for us. But at a club like Celtic, there is always pressure on us, even in friendlies. The manager would never let us get complacent.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright, meanwhile, is frustrated at the “raw deal” his former Northern Ireland team-mate Lennon receives. Lennon last week spoke openly about his bafflement over his status as a hate figure for some after he was allegedly pelted with missiles during Aberdeen’s League Cup semi with St Johnstone at Tynecastle.
Wright has known Lennon since their international days and plays golf with the Celtic manager.
“Everybody sees the football side of everybody but I have known Neil a long, long time and I have found him nothing but good company, a good laugh, and really knowledgeable about football,” Wright said.
“He has been at the top of his profession as a player, he has coached at reserve-team level and worked his way up to get one of the top jobs in Europe, and he is still a young man. If you’re a manager, particularly at Celtic and Rangers, you are in the spotlight all the time, and it’s easy for people to try and pick holes in them. But I think he gets a raw deal.
“What happened to him against Aberdeen was a disgrace. It seems he has been targeted in the past.
“I can only speak from my experiences of going to games in Scotland, and the boardrooms are friendly, the supporters have a bit of banter and as long as it’s a bit of banter it’s fine. But people allegedly throwing things and spitting has no place in society.”
And Wright knows Lennon will have his team fired up after their cup defeat, saying: “They are not only very good players but good professionals and they will be hurting from last weekend. Good players want to get defeats out of their system and the way to do that is to win the next one. I’m expecting them to come out and force the issue against us.”