Avoiding Barnes-Dalglish humiliation level now Celtic's only objective from this league campaign
Yet, their flakiness condemned them to that fate, allowing Rangers to stride away with a double-digit lead in the championship. No wonder it led to an admission from the man at the Parkhead helm that if such form continued, Celtic would be “lucky to finish third”.
Not a snapshot of the grizzly times facing Neil Lennon and his squad as all hope over snaring a record tenth title has evaporated. Although, chillingly, it could easily be. No, this was the scenario that pre-empted John Barnes’ jettisoning in February 2000.
Of course, everyone remembers the Englishman’s ill-starred nine-month tenure being ended by the famous SuperCaleygoballisticCelticareattrocious Scottish Cup upset. It was, though, the league form that preceded the shock that made sure the humbling home exit pushed the novice manager over the edge.
What happened next must be a lesson from history that Celtic take heed of.
Barnes and Dalglish
Barnes had taken charge for 20 top-flight games when he was removed from his position, to be replaced on an interim basis by Kenny Dalglish – the man, who, as director of football, immediately handed his former Liverpool charge and wholly untried coach the Celtic reins on being appointed to the role the previous summer.
Celtic, presently, have also played 20 league games. However, on the back of the 1-1 draw with Hibs, they are in an even more drastic position than the one that caused the club’s board to lose patience with Barnes. Back then, following a bizarre afternoon wherein Celtic squandered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 defeat at home by Hearts and had him no longer looking up but down, Rangers were able to stretch their lead in the title race to ten points. A far cry from the 21-point chasm that exists between the Glasgow titans … allowing for the fact that Lennon’s men have played three games fewer.
Dalglish was reluctantly dragged into the frontline then because the Celtic hierarchy feared the championship campaign simply drifting into humiliation territory. Despite leading the club to League Cup success, he proved powerless to prevent exactly that from unfolding, with the Ibrox team under Dick Advocaat winning the league that season by a colossal 21 points.
Celtic’s current situation is agonisingly analogous – in significant respects – with the pickle they found themselves in 21 years ago. Right now then, the only realistic objective for them must revolve around limiting the humiliation that could be further inflicted across the remainder of disastrous pursuit of the record ten-in-a-row. A necessity if they are to not to be in Barnes-Dalglish blown-away title territory come the conclusion of this championship in May.
One final goal and ‘the fear’
Granted, they still have the Scottish Cup to contest. And even if this would be a mere fig leaf from a season in which they have been denuded of their previously supernatural powers for silverware-snaring, to extend the longest winning run in the annals of the competition would not be nothing. Over time, it will come to be recognised that Celtic’s greatest achievement from this glittering era was not nine straight titles but the outstanding – in the purest sense of the word – quadruple treble success. Yet, even if the 12th and final trophy in that run was claimed last month as a consequence of the global pandemic lockdown, it shouldn’t be considered plunder from this season.
What rightly will give Celtic supporters the absolute fear is that the prospects for Steven Gerrard’s team absolutely wiping the floor with their rivals in this – one horse – title ‘race’ must be considered very real. Celtic’s players couldn’t stay on point for the early part of this season when they had so much to play for. Lennon has acknowledged that was attributable to a number of them feeling they had done their time with the club and seeking new challenges. The ‘definites’ in this category were Odsonne Edouard, Oliver Ntcham and Kristoffer Ajer, while such as Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor perhaps subconsciously had their focus diffused.
A lost cause in football has never been a precursor for a squad summoning every ounce of effort from within themselves. Yet, Lennon must somehow find a way to keep his men on the level. Even as the Irishman’s own position has appeared to become a lost cause. Whatever his shortcomings, so many factors beyond his control have converged to club Celtic into submission in a brutal manner. Regardless of whether Lennon has been far from the principal author of his team’s misfortunes, though, this summer is shaping up as a year zero for the club, both in terms of footballing operation and corporate structure.
Shot-shy and rampant Lions
The Covid-19 close contact isolation period taking out a huge swathe of the football staff that has ensued from Christopher Jullien’s positive test following Celtic’s Dubai misadventure will leave them devoid of Lennon, assistant John Kennedy and 13 players – most damagingly among this group, the club’s entire array of senior attacking options – for the forthcoming match on Saturday with a Livingston side on a storming run of eight straight victories.
That backdrop hardly engenders optimism the Parkhead side can stabilise in the short-term. Yet somehow they must in order to prevent misery being heaped upon misery for them in a fashion rarely endured across the past quarter-of-a-century. This season was set up as one for the ages for Celtic. No-one anticipated that it could be an age of awfulness.
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