A fitting tribute to Billy McNeill
Billy McNeill holds such an important place in the hearts and minds of Celtic Football Club and it’s supporters that his passing on Monday at the age of 79 was always going to be keenly felt.
From the social media videos, to the makeshift shrine that McNeill’s statue outside Celtic Park has become, to the heartening applause inside the ground prior to the game against Kilmarnock, the Lisbon Lion has been beautifully honoured this week. It’s a reminder of how loved he was by those at Celtic and the wider football community.
It was therefore fitting that the only goal against Killie would come from home side’s most recent holder of the No.5 shorts, Jozo Simunovic, with a bullet header.
Steve Clarke underlines his value
While Steve Clarke might be in hot water with the SFA after last weekend’s comments about Steven McLean, this afternoon underlined why the governing body shouldn’t hold it against him for too long.
When it comes to candidates for the Scotland manager’s job, Clarke remains amongst the favourites and for good reason. Shorn on two centre halves in Kirk Broadfoot and Stuart Findlay, suspended after last Saturday’s controversial encounter with Aberdeen along with Rory McKenzie, and already without Scott Boyd, Youssouf Mulumbu and Jordan Jones, the Kilmarnock boss sent a patched-up side out against champions-elect Celtic at Parkhead.
If, on paper, it threatened to be a walkover for the home side, in practice it was nothing of the sort. Indeed, Kilmarnock could - and probably should - have been ahead at the break, but Chris Burke and Eamonn Brophy both missed golden opportunities when through on goal.
At the back, meanwhile, a centre back pairing of midfielder Gary Dicker and Alex Bruce, who last managed 90 minutes on the 14th August, held firm until well into the second half.
The final result, ultimately, wasn’t a surprise, but the performance arguably was showed again why Clarke, with his limited resources, is a wanted man
Neil Lennon fails to convince again as reckoning edges nearer
The longer the season drags on, the less convincing a case Neil Lennon appears to have for the permanent manager’s job at Celtic.
If his first few games included impressive wins against difficult opponents and circumstances, every game since has chipped away confidence that he can keep Celtic at the same level as his predecessor.
While it’s true to say Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic were less than impressive for long spells of this campaign, they still possessed a style and occasional swagger which hinted at their true level.
Under Lennon, style has been replaced with something more functional and the performances have become almost uniformly flat. Celtic have now scored one goal, or less, in half of the games under the Northern Irishman.
Odsonne Edouard is ill-suited to a game where’s he predominately required to get on the end of crosses, with his only goal in the last six games coming from the penalty spot.
Behind him, the fast, intricate play that saw Celtic tear holes in opposition defences has become more ploddingly obvious, making it easier for teams to re-group behind the ball and defend with numbers. Against Kilmarnock, it was more of the same as a patchwork visiting defence held Celtic at bay for long stretches.
Celtic supporters harboured doubts about Lennon returning of a long-term basis even as he was announced and those concerns will only have been exacerbated by recent performances. Some within the Celtic board clearly still hold a candle for the interim manager, but he’s doing little to convince them in the longer term. It seems strange to say, but even a Scottish Cup and treble treble might not deliver Neil Lennon the Celtic job past the summer.
Rangers need to win tomorrow to deny Celtic the title
As Kilmarnock midfielder Chris Burke found himself free in the Celtic box with only Scott Bain to beat, Rangers fans watching might suddenly have seen a title race explode back into life. A Celtic defeat, allied to a Rangers win on Sunday against Aberdeen, and maybe, just maybe...
But Burke, the former Rangers player, shot too close to Bain and the chance, and the Ibrox side’s slim hopes, were gone. Now, a Rangers win is only likely to matter in the title reckoning by prolonging the Celtic celebrations for another weekend. Still, Steven Gerrard’s men - who still need to secure second spot - won’t want to hand the trophy to their neighbours from the East End of Glasgow.