No room for error in Latvia as Celtic fans start to get restless

Winning domestic run lost on supporters

Callum McGregor blasts home the equaliser with a long-range effort. Picture: SNS.

Celtic’s players and management may continually lament the absence of supporters at games. They really ought to be relieved over this consequence of the global pandemic, though.

There is no question that in certain
areas Celtic have functionality more than are functioning smoothly. A two-goal haul from Livingston at Parkhead for only the second time in the West Lothian club’s history was demonstration of that on Saturday. Even if the opener was a penalty and the strike to cause a nervy end for the home side was a once-in-a-career mighty biff from Julien Sennaro.

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In between these 16th-minute and 79th-minute counters, Celtic scored three exquisite goals, but their fanbase are exhibiting such collective neurosis that they do not want to see any of the good from their team, or – more pointedly – their manager Neil Lennon, pictured inset.

Instead of a side that have a slight advantage in this ten-in-a-row opportunity of a championship campaign as the result of Rangers’ 2-2 draw away to Hibernian yesterday, they paint a picture of a team in turmoil.

Lennon is castigated for attempting to fine-tune a 3-5-2 formation so many of these followers appeared to be crying out for him to play only a month ago. He is damned too for daring to spread the workload during a busy period in making certain personnel changes from game to game – a period wherein the Scottish champions just happen to have been the only team in the country able to string together five league wins.

Celtic supporters have had it too good for too long and don’t seem to recognise that every successful team has had its bumpy periods. Lennon deserves more respect for the outcomes achieved under him in the past year and a half – winning all four trophies contested and guiding the club to its first pole position in a European group stage – but the reactionary nature of fandom in the Celtic domain denies him that.

As a result, his team simply daren’t slip up in their Europa League third qualifying round tie away to Riga in Latvia on Thursday. The wounds caused by the hapless defeat by Ferencvaros in the Champions League second qualifying round aren’t going to heal easily.
Lennon cannot afford more such bloodletting. Not when Celtic have earned European group stage football for the past nine seasons.

“It’s a big thing for the club,” acknowledged the club’s effervescent right wing-back Jeremie Frimpong, who says he doesn’t mind whether he is deployed in a 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1. “We all want to play European football and show our ability on that stage to the rest of the world. It will be tough in Latvia but every game in the qualifiers is like that. Teams all want to beat us. They want to show their own quality and they will treat it like a final. We just have to be at our best and look to get the job done over there.”

Frimpong has been one of Celtic’s
success stories over the past 12 months, the 19-year-old feeling settled a year on from his breakthrough. The 2019 summer signing from the Manchester City academy – a smart pick-up from Lennon – concurs the squad he joined then has been improved upon since. Principally with the additions of Albian Ajeti and Shane Duffy. The teenager pointed to the bench on Saturday as evidence of Celtic’s strength. Yet the fact that Odsonne Edouard sat on it alongside such as James Forrest, Mohamed Elyounoussi, David Turnbull and Tom Rogic suggested trouble could be afoot with the 22-year-old French striker so crucial to Celtic.

Lennon may have been keen to promote a nothing-to-see-here 
attitude to Edouard having asked not to be selected as the result of feeling tired.

However, that cannot be considered the actions of a player willing to give his absolute all for the cause. Especially a player so long placed on the shopping lists of all manner of powerhouse clubs before the window closes in just under a fortnight. Edouard may have missed three games with a thigh strain before the recent international break, but during that pause for cross-border skirmishing he managed to play twice for the French under-21s before looking a little out of sorts in two games for Celtic since.

With inevitable doubts now cast on Edouard’s short-term future, Celtic supporters ought to celebrate that Lennon did so much to convince Ajeti to set up home at Celtic. The £4.5m signing from West Ham showed once again at the weekend that he is a magnificent finisher
with one classy touch to snare him a fourth goal in five league outings.

“He is so cool in front of goal,” said Frimpong. “He shows total composure. But that’s a top striker for you. He never panics.”

Ajeti might just want to share his secret with the Celtic 

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