Circumstances beyond any manager’s control, such as a red card or dubious penalty can precipitate the most unexpected, even undeserved, cup defeat.
In a bid to avoid that occurrence for his Celtic team when they face Rangers in this afternoon’s League Cup decider, Neil Lennon has sought to somehow control the uncontrollables. To do that he is demanding his side be unoutchables.
“It’s important to try to take that out of it,” he said of any dodgy calls that referee Willie Collum will be desperate to avoid. “Try to be the dominant team in all aspects of the game and then you don’t have to look at wrong decisions. You’ve got to take the referee out of it, you’ve got to keep your discipline and play as strongly as you can.”
The Irishman sees no reason why Celtic cannot make good on those objectives so ensure that their remarkable run of accolades - which stands at nine straight domestic honours - and straight cup-tie successes - now at the 30 mark – avoids coming to a shuddering halt this afternoon.
“Not with the run we’re on [with 11 straight wins in all competitions], not the way we’re playing, not with the significance or magnitude or the game, or the opposition,” he said. “It may come to a stop at some stage but the way we’re playing, if we can replicate that form, it’s going to take a very good team to beat us.”
Across four-and-a-half years of his first spell, Lennon did not succeed in annexing all three domestic honours. This latest derby dust-up presents him with the opportunity to claim all three within eight months of stepping back into the frontline at Celtic. Ending what he has previously mused, lightheartedly, might be a “hex” when it comes to winning the League Cup as a manager matters less to him personally than what it would mean in a wider respect.
“It’s one I haven’t won so it would be great to tick that box off, but it’s for the players and fans really. I want the players to keep going in this trophy splurge - it’s been marvellous, they’re relentlessness,” Lennon said. “They showed it in the semi [with their 5-2 win over Hibernian], their approach to that game was fantastic and they played brilliantly, so again, if we can get the preparation right, we’ll leave them to it because they know what’s at stake. They have vast experience now of playing at Hampden and playing in finals. Will it help? I think a little bit, but they’ve got to go and play the game, not the occasion.”
The nature of such occasions results in Lennon not needing to go through chapter and verse in giving instructions to his players before sending them out.
“The structure is already there, my team talks last a minute or two because all the prep work is done before then,” he said. “If I talk for 15 minutes, they’ll forget the first 14 of them, because they’re thinking about a lot of other things. So it’s important to give them the bullet points of what we want from the game. that’s written down for them, and then I’ll come in with my wee bit. And then let them go.”