Alan Pattullo: Neil Lennon is right to feel a sense of betrayal

Ibrox defeat is the one blemish on 'Neil Lennon's return to Celtic. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
Ibrox defeat is the one blemish on 'Neil Lennon's return to Celtic. Picture: Craig Foy/SNS
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A last-minute victory at a febrile Tynecastle. A comprehensive Scottish Cup victory on an emotional night against Hibs.

Two 3-0 wins over Aberdeen. A 1-0 win courtesy of a goal six minutes into added time over a 
Dundee team that were – then – battling for their lives.

Draws against Livingston, Aberdeen and Hibs. It’s not the worst run of results. In fact, had you offered this to Neil Lennon when he came in or even Brendan Rodgers, had he stayed as Celtic manager, they would have taken it, gladly.

They will have known that the dropping of just six points in the next nine league games would almost guarantee a title win. (Rangers were eight points adrift when Rodgers left).

There’s been one particular black spot – last weekend’s 2-0 defeat by Rangers. But then Rodgers’ side lost to Rangers at Christmas in a performance he labelled as one of the worst under him and which brought their Ibrox rivals level on points with the champions.

The most recent loss at Ibrox came after the league title was already confirmed. While there’s never nothing to play for in a derby, Rangers were giving everything to retrieve some crumb of comfort from a season spent chasing Celtic for the most part.

It is therefore understandable that Lennon feels slighted by the perception Celtic have been unimpressive of late, that they have stumbled over the line. That’s one way of looking at it. From the perspective of this column, Lennon’s overseen a pretty smooth passage to the title. Yet still he’s suffered brickbats – about style, tactics and even his over-emotional celebration of that late winning goal at Dens Park in March.

It’s natural he feels inclined to underline his achievements in management while also having a go at the entitled section of a Celtic support, “the new breed” as he described them.

Just two weeks ago, after Celtic’s comfortable victory over Aberdeen secured eight in a row, he was being lauded from the away section at Pittodrie – which was, admittedly, full of those not willing to let concerns about style get in the way of a good party.

That’s not to say he should be given the job on a full-time basis whatever happens in next weekend’s Scottish Cup final against Hearts. Even Lennon, in his private moments, will surely see the sense in Celtic looking elsewhere as they seek to re-ignite things in pre-season.

But he’s right to feel a sense of betrayal after helping Celtic out of a tight spot and given his own long and successful association with the club. For his own sake, it might be better for him to walk away at the end of the season.

Lennon might be thinking the same thing having been a very visible presence at this week’s play-off between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion, with whose vacant manager’s position he has been linked.

If he’s already seeming under pressure, think what it might be like over the course of an entire season, when Rangers might finally be strong enough to mount a title challenge to last the course of a whole season.

This is why Celtic need to re-strengthen. But the major surgery many believe is necessary seems an exaggerated verdict. They are a game away from securing a treble treble. If Celtic win tomorrow against Hearts and Rangers lose away to Kilmarnock, which does not seem an outlandish scenario, the points difference between first and second position will be nine – as it was last year after what was termed a calamitous season for the Ibrox club.

Celtic could well win the league title again with the majority of the team they put out at Ibrox last Sunday augmented by the likes of Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie, who both missed out due to injury. They will need cover at left back and probably another right back while a striker will also be top of the shopping list whoever replaces Lennon.

The Northern Irishman’s expected departure could have consequences for others. Despite Lennon’s hope, expressed last month, that Leigh Griffiths might feature this season, it now appears certain he won’t amid renewed speculation about the striker’s Celtic future. Can you imagine someone like Rafa Benitez, who has shot to the top of the betting odds, having the patience or even willingness to treat a striker he does not know with the sympathy and tolerance Griffiths obviously requires?