If the Scottish Cup comes Celtic’s way next Saturday to complete a barely believable treble treble, Neil Lennon would be entitled to take immense credit for bringing it home. He won’t, though. His arrival in late February following the rapid exit of Brendan Rodgers came with Celtic firmly on course to clinch an eighth straight title. It also, though, came the week they were gearing up for a Scottish Cup quarter-final tie at Easter Road, where Rodgers had never won.
The fact that Lennon safely guided Celtic through their assignment against his former club in Leith before he took charge of a comprehensive semi-final victory over Aberdeen hasn’t changed his perspective over where ownership should lie in the event of the club clinching a ninth straight domestic honour on Saturday.
“The ownership belongs to the players,” said the Celtic interim. “This is their time. They’ve already done something remarkable with the double treble, and it’s ridiculous that we’re even sitting here talking about them doing a treble treble,” he said. “We don’t take it for granted, we don’t take it lightly so we’re planning and everything is in place. There’s a few of them carrying bumps, bruises and knocks and we have to tread very carefully with them.”
The 47-year-old is carrying psychological bumps and bruises of his own. He is wounded both by being taken for granted and considered disposable by a support who want to see him in the Celtic technical area at Hampden next Saturday, and at no point beyond that. They want a bigger name, a coach they would consider boasts greater pedigree and prestige than a man who has given the best part of two decades to the club, often in trying circumstances.
The home fans will no doubt acclaim Lennon as the league championship trophy is presented against Hearts this afternoon. But his appointment as permanent successor appears to be becoming impossible for the Celtic board in light of the level of opposition from the Celtic masses.
Every false step, none more so than the hapless 2-0 defeat at Ibrox last week, is being used as damning evidence against him over his aspirations to take the job on next season. All he can do is ensure that there is no end to the unprecedented period of domestic domination of honours that Celtic have enjoyed these past three seasons. Even allowing for Hearts’ dreadful recent form, Lennon petitions that the club claiming the Scottish Cup for a third straight season – a treble they have never achieved in their history – can hardly be considered a shoe-in just because the club have won a Scottish record 26 domestic cup ties.
“Anything can happen. You had the two Champions League semi-finals and then the English play-off [when Derby won at Leeds] the other night. You have to get it right and I know because I have been knocked out of cups as a player and a manager. If you are not right on the day then you get done. No matter who the opposition is. We got knocked out by Clyde one year. If you are not bang at it… Maybe last week is just a wee reminder that you have to be at it, but the players know what is at stake next week. We are planning everything for that.
“I am not taking one bit of notice of Hearts’ form. Craig [Levein] changed the team a lot over the last few weeks. He is rotating the squad a lot and he is a wily old character. He is shrewd. So we are taking nothing for granted, recent form anything like that. It is all on the day.”
If it goes right, it is a day that should belong to Lennon.