Celtic players have lost ‘complete trust’ of still-angry Neil Lennon
SO dismayed was Celtic manager Neil Lennon by his team’s display in Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat by Kilmarnock that he revealed yesterday that his players no longer enjoy his complete trust.
Fortunately for the miscreants, they have the opportunity to perform an act of contrition by beating St Johnstone in tonight’s Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final at Celtic Park. That outcome would partially redeem them in Lennon’s eyes, although one suspects the disappointment he felt on Saturday will take some time to recede.
Lennon was as scathing in his assessment of his team’s performance at the weekend as he had been fulsome in his praise for their defiance in the Nou Camp four days earlier and, while he concedes that the five changes he made was too drastic an alteration to his starting 11, he was swift to point out that those who came in could hardly be described as peripheral players.
“[James] Forrest has been playing, [Kris] Commons has been playing, [Adam] Matthews has been playing,” he said. “[Beram] Kayal hadn’t been playing because he was injured but he came in last week at St Mirren. Miku has been in and out of the team. So it’s not as if none of them have been playing.
“I don’t want them to be seen as bit-part players, I want them to be part of the squad like everyone else. When they play like that, it makes it a little bit more difficult for me to trust them. They are going to have to earn that trust again. [Saturday] was an unnecessary performance off the back of things going so well for us. It was a huge dose of reality. I just want the players to show a little more humility at times as well.
“But we have discussed it and it will not be mentioned again. I don’t want to keep taking four steps forward and one back, or whatever it is. They have been playing some scintillating football and I just want them to get back to that.
“What surprised me was the drop in performance and tempo, compared to what it has been over the last three or four weeks. I didn’t envisage us playing so poorly and so flatly, but that just shows you it can happen. When things are going well I don’t want them getting carried away. I’m not saying they are getting carried away but all the great teams have [humility].
“There’s Barcelona, who won 5-0 away at the weekend. The great teams just keep going: they don’t rest on their laurels, sit back and say ‘I’m a good player, I’ve cracked it.’
“They just keep going the same way. They don’t get too carried away with themselves, they have that even balance. That’s what I want: they don’t get too low when they get beat and not too high when they win. I want a good response to Saturday.”
Lennon experienced the undulations of playing AC Milan in midweek and Dunfermline in the following match as recently as 2007. He also knows that it’s bread-and-butter results which fund a caviare lifestyle and not only does he refuse to make allowances for his players, he has warned them that they won’t be involved in the European theatre unless they justify their selection in domestic games.
“That’s an easy way out,” he said. “There was just no excuse for the lack of quality in our overall performance. Up until then our domestic form has been blistering, if you look at Motherwell, Hearts, St Mirren. Interspersed was winning in Moscow, doing so well there. So their form going into the game was pretty good.
“It’s a learning process for me because of the different demands and for the players, who are maybe playing Champions League for the first time. But we can’t, and they can’t, pin all their hopes on Champions League football and raise their game for these glamour games or whatever you want to call them. The SPL is the priority and if they are going to [under-achieve as they did against Kilmarnock], then they won’t play.”
Lennon exonerated Venezuelan striker Miku from blame, however. The 27-year-old, a loan signing from La Liga outfit Getafe, has yet to score in four appearances but the Irishman believes that the goals will come. “Miku I have a certain sympathy for,” he said. “I think the other players could have done a bit more for him. He is taking his time to adapt to the Scottish game but there was a lot of good stuff off the ball that he was doing. We didn’t get the benefit of that because we were so pedestrian and lacklustre. So he can be excused: the rest can’t.
“He’s desperate to do well. There’s nothing wrong with his attitude, he hasn’t been behaving badly or anything like that. He has been an excellent professional. His young wife and baby are here now and it takes a bit of time to acclimatise. Sometimes it takes six months. I’m sure we’ll see the best of him over the course of the season.”
Celtic haven’t lost three successive games since Lennon was a member of Gordon Strachan’s side which was beaten by AC Milan, Rangers and Falkirk five years ago. He has no intention of repeating that unwanted treble against St Johnstone, whose seven-game unbeaten run began with a victory over the champions at McDiarmid Park last month.
“I want a positive reaction from the weekend,” he said. “Plus St Johnstone have already beaten us. That’ll be echoing round the dressing room before the game.
“So we will be very motivated. It is also the quarter-final of a cup competition and we want to maintain our participation in all four competitions that we’re in. The next game is the most important one and we will be pretty strong tomorrow.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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