NEIL Lennon has re-stated his long-term commitment to achieving sustained success as Celtic manager and admitted his weekend threat to resign was borne simply of frustration and raw emotion.
Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle saw Lennon engage in a verbal altercation with some Celtic supporters who were berating the performance of his players.
Lennon was at pains to play down the incident yesterday, describing it as “no big deal”. He accepted the prerogative of fans to register their disapproval at a run of SPL form which has seen Celtic win just one of their last five games, but also believes his players have earned the right to a greater degree of patience and understanding for their efforts to succeed in both the Champions League and domestically this season.
“Yes, what I said on Saturday was in the heat of the moment,” said Lennon. “I am tucked into this job now and I want to see it through. I want success. It just makes me more determined than ever.
“If fans are not happy and there’s a groundswell of opinion that I’m not doing my job properly, then I would re-think my position. But that has never changed since day one in the job for me. I’d like to think it was just a minority on Saturday, but there is a lack of patience sometimes at our home games. All clubs have it. Arsene Wenger’s been getting it at Arsenal. So other clubs and managers go through the same thing. We have set a good bar for ourselves, so there is dissent and I understand that.
“But the fans have to see it from our point of view as well. I am not trying to create a division here. There was just a difference of opinion with a couple of supporters. They are entitled to voice their opinion and I’m entitled to voice mine.
“One point out of nine from our last three home games is not good enough, so I sympathise with the fans. But they have to sympathise with us too. It’s not that the players are not trying to win the game, or that they are lackadaisical or lazy. It’s just that it’s not happened for them at times. I need to get my finger on the pulse and find out why. I am fine now after Saturday. It was a difference of opinion, it’s no big deal. We are trying to maintain our standards in four competitions this season and it doesn’t happen all the time.”
Lennon has become accustomed to his every interaction with supporters and match officials being closely scrutinised during his Celtic career, both as player and manager. His public persona during matches has been notably more calm and restrained this season, with Saturday the first occasion when his feelings appeared to get the better of him.
Never short of free advice on how he should conduct himself, Lennon recalled a previous spat which reminded him that the expectations and demands of some supporters will never be met.
“I remember throwing a water bottle, not at a supporter but in his general direction, who was moaning at us after we lost 1-0 to Rangers at home in 2007 to Ugo Ehiogu’s goal,” he said. “We’d just come off a last 16 Champions League game against AC Milan in the San Siro and we were 19 points clear of Rangers in the league. Losing the game meant we were ‘only’ 16 points clear. Sometimes you can’t please them all.
“There is never a middle ground in Scotland, maybe there should be sometimes. Listen, it’s all heat of the moment stuff, but we haven’t got a God-given right to be two or three goals up after 20 minutes at home.
“On Saturday, it wasn’t me that was getting stick, it was the team. But you take it to heart sometimes because it is your team out there. It’s normal. Real Madrid got beat at the weekend and they’re 11 points behind Barcelona, so there are better managers than me on a sticky wicket just now.
“There will be people who are pleased about my reaction at the weekend and want to take shots at us. That’s fine. They don’t contribute anything to the game up here and just want to take the negatives out of it. I am prepared for it, I’ve seen it all before and I’ve been in a lot worse positions than this.”
Lennon is confident of a positive response from his players tonight when they take on Hearts at Tynecastle. Celtic have lost the corresponding SPL fixture in each of the last three seasons but Lennon believes it is the ideal venue at which to re-assert their status as firm title favourites. “I think the players appreciate me sticking up for them at the weekend,” he added. “I’m sure that I will get a reaction out of them like I’ve always done. They are a good bunch, a really good bunch, and temperamentally they’re pretty good as well. They’re not feeling sorry for themselves, there is a determination to get it right among them all.
“With the atmosphere at Tynecastle, I am hoping to get a good reaction. They will look forward to the game, they enjoy playing there and they’re coming up against a very good team, so it’s an ideal game to get stuck back into straight away.”