The limpness betrayed by a depleted Parkhead side in labouring to a scoreless draw against Livingston on Saturday seemed as if it might at least represent some sort of a full stop on the floggings, failings on-field, and febrile atmosphere that have scorched the club as a consequence. Yet, it wasn’t. Rangers scratching a draw at Motherwell the following day made the brainless United Arab Emirates excursion appear all the more egregious.
Whatever the myriad shortcomings of Neil Lennon’s team, there is every reason to suspect that if they had their full complement for the home encounters with Hibs and the West Lothian team, they would have taken full points, not two. In that event, they would now have been two points closer to Steven Gerrard’s men following their Fir Park tie. The fact is, though, Lennon’s side are not. They are 21 points adrift of their rivals, with three games in hand, and the jig is up for them in pursuit of a record 10th title.
And for Celtic’s Jeremie Frimpong, it is no use blaming the absence of Lennon, his assistant John Kennedy, and 13 players - notably their full array of senior attacking options in Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths, Ryan Christie, Mohamed Elyounoussi, Albian Ajeti and Patryk Klimala - for their insipid display against David Martindale’s high-flying side. A team Celtic will face again on Wednesday at the Tony Macaroni Stadium in a contest that will put to the test how much key personnel have been missed this past week. All will be back in place having completed their 10-day isolation period required through being close contacts of Christopher Jullien following his Covid-19 positive test on the return from Dubai.
“Although there were a lot of players missing, there were enough regulars out there. That’s no excuse,” said the 20-year-old Dutchman, one of eight club regulars who could still be fielded by stand-in team leader Gavin Strachan. “The team that’s picked has to go out and perform. But we just didn’t do that. I felt confident before the game that we’d produce the performance that would get us the result we needed but it didn’t work out like that. I can’t explain why. It’s been strange the past few days without the manager and John Kennedy being around as you work so closely with them. They’ve obviously got their messages through to us but obviously it’s just not the same as seeing them in person. As a footballer, you’ve got to deal with every situation. It is what it is. There is no point in complaining. It’s happened.”
The principal issue was, unsurprisingly, the lack of any frontline momentum, midfielder Tom Rogic pressed into action as an emergency striker. The static Australian wasn’t so much a fish out of water as a fish that appeared as if he was in the middle of the Sahara. Frimpong wasn’t for seeing Saturday as the final meaningful act in an excruciating Premiership campaign, though. “All we can do is try to keep winning. We’ll see,” he said. “We don’t look at the league table. We just take one game at a time and see where it takes us.” Nowhere, is the unpalatable answer to that.