Neil Lennon: "One of hardest weeks" as Celtic manager - but Chris Sutton is over-reacting

There is no attempt from Neil Lennon to downplay the difficulties that have beset him and his Celtic side.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon insists he still has "the fire in belly" despite adopting a more "measured" approach sine his return to the club in February 2019 (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The 49-year-old has been in management for more than a decade. However, the losses to Rangers and AC Milan - only the fourth time in almost six years at the Celtic helm he has suffered consecutive defeats - and the squad disarray caused by Covid-19 and injury absences mean he has rarely encountered a spell as problematic as the one that now provides his team with a fraught assignment in Aberdeen.

“It's been one of the hardest weeks I've had as a manager,” Lennon said. “The international break was really tough because we were getting one call-off after another. We didn't get the players together until Friday and had to try and prepare them for a huge game [against Rangers].

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“Off the back of that, we had to play a really good side in AC Milan. I'm bitterly disappointed that we lost because I hate losing at any time, especially at home. We started brightly but gave away a really poor goal. We need to tidy up defensively in certain areas.

“But in the second half we were excellent and could have got something. That gives me a lot of things to think positively about going into another big week [with Lille in the Europa League and the Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen to follow Pittodrie]. But it's been very stop-start either due to injuries or the players' season being disrupted. We just need to settle everyone down and get a consistent flow – not just in terms of team selection but for games and training purposes as well.”

When AC Milan made it 2-0 just gefore half-time in Thursday’s Europa League opener, Lennon’s former Parkhead team-mate Chris Sutton stated on BT Sport that Celtic had hit “rock bottom”. A partial scramble upwards was then achieved through putting the encounter in the balance with a second half counter, before the concession of an added-time third. Precisely why the Celtic manager isn’t having such a bleak assessment of where his team may have found themselves.

“To say we'd hit rock bottom – that is hysteria. I can't buy into that,” Lennon said. “Chris has a job to do, like all pundits. But you don't have to agree with their opinion. Listen, we were playing AC Milan, who are top of Serie A. There were a lot of aspects where I thought we were better than Milan, particularly in the second half. We were very strong and we had a good appetite. We had more energy than the weekend, our body language was a lot better. And in the second half we were the better team. We just lacked a bit of cutting edge and quality. We certainly deserved our goal and went all in to try and get something.”

The notion that there is something missing in Lennon as the result of the Irishman affecting a more “measured” response to the twin imposters is another well-versed criticism that the Celtic manager won’t countenance. “It would be a mistake for people to think I've not got the same fire in my belly that I had before, “he said “I have it more than ever... especially when my back's against the wall.”

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