Neil Lennon can't hide his frustration as he tries to pick up the pieces at Celtic

IF ANYONE had expected the passing of another day to have dimmed Neil Lennon's anger at what he had viewed on Saturday, then they were quickly disabused of the notion yesterday. Another press briefing, another opportunity to hear the Celtic interim manager tell it as it is in the aftermath of Saturday's Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County.

Neil Lennon pictured yesterday with Robbie Keane, who was awared the player of the month award

Part of Lennon's coping mechanism is a penchant for chewing tobacco. He lodged another lump between gum and cheek as he sought to address the urgent requirement to turn things around at the club, beginning this evening in low-key conditions against Motherwell.

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He stressed the need for three points, with Celtic resigned to looking over their shoulder at Dundee United, just five points behind them in third place. The pursuit of Rangers is no longer an issue. Securing the opportunity to at least try and qualify for the group stage of the Champions League most definitely is.

"Second is pivotal now," Lennon emphasised. "It's so imperative that we finish second. I don't care if we have to play seven qualifying games in the Champions League – we need to be in the Champions League."

It was when he was asked about the short-term ambitions for Celtic that Lennon's eyes began to blaze with the same ferocity as they did on Saturday, when he launched a withering attack on his under-performing players.

This latest outburst might also make Tony Mowbray's ears prick up, since it appeared to reference the former manager's tendency to speak about his desire to put in place plans for a better future. While a laudable intention, the present day must also be improved at the same time. This is the lot of the Old Firm manager.

Lennon inserted a ball of tobacco into his mouth before nearly spitting it out again during the passionate monologue which followed: "See projects, lads? F***ing forget it. I'm f***ing sick of hearing it. I'm sick of hearing about two and three-year plans. I don't buy it. It's f***ing now.

"You don't have time as a Celtic or Rangers manager," he continued. "You've got to get results straight away. So whatever happens in the summer, we might as well prepare for it now. Try to identify players coming in, identify players going out and get the ball rolling as soon as the season finishes.

"Projects are something my daughter does at school," he added. "Listen, I'm a football man, only interested in results, performances and players. I don't care about two years' time. I might not bloody be here."

Lennon is still prepared to back himself against anyone else for the position, but he accepts that Saturday's result might have seen others lose faith in him. He revealed that he "wasn't reassured" by a late-night chat on Sunday with major shareholder Dermot Desmond.

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He has questioned himself in the hours since Celtic failed to make any impression whatsoever against First Division opposition. "I've been analysing it over and over in my head and speaking to people about it," he said. "I've been thinking, 'Did I miss anything?' I don't think I did. I tried to cover all the bases. But that's football, you get days like that. I had a bad feeling about it ten minutes into the game. I thought that it looked as if it was going to take us an age to get started. And it did."

Those with the greatest need to reproach themselves remain the players. Lennon accepted that the "buck stops with me" but he also refused to back down after his condemnation of the team on Saturday. He said many of them did not deserve to be at the club next season, and, whatever is his own fate, won't be.

He might have expected to feel some resentment towards him yesterday, having trashed the managerial convention of not criticising players in public. But as of yesterday afternoon there had been no evidence of an uprising against him. Nobody had knocked on his door to take issue with his points, as Lennon had invited them to do. "Not one of them has come near me," he said.

Instead, the players appeared to have resolved to take it on the chin, just as Lennon had advised they do on the return to Celtic Park on Saturday evening. As has become convention following embarrassing defeats, the team bus was met by a rather ferocious reception committee. An angry throng also gathered in the car park last month, following the 4-0 defeat to St Mirren which spelled the end of Mowbray's short time in charge. Further barbs were hurled at the team and manager on Saturday. Lennon did what few of his players had done in the afternoon and fronted up. Those in the bus with him were instructed to endure what were likely to be some uncomfortable moments.

"They get plenty of praise when things are going well," Lennon reflected. "It's a fantastic club when it's bouncing. You get treated – rightly or wrongly – like absolute superstars in this city, considering some of the talent we've got. Sometimes it's deserved and sometimes it's undeserved. But when there are performances as poor as that, as there have been on numerous occasions in the season, then they have to be big enough to accept the criticism that's levelled at them."

Lennon himself went back out and dealt with the fans' issues outside Celtic Park on Saturday. "I just wanted to placate them more than anything," he said. "I understood their feelings, their anger, their disappointment. The least I could do was go out and explain to them my team selection, and try to explain the reasons as to why it has gone wrong."

Some were obvious. Lennon's decision to replace Landry Nguemo with Marc Crosas after just 42 minutes was a very public indication of his displeasure at the midfielder's contribution. The interim manager did not even try and spare the player's blushes by inventing an injury niggle. According to Lennon, he had simply not deserved to remain on the park as Ross County took command of midfield.

"I couldn't wait any longer," said Lennon, when asked whether he had contemplated waiting until half-time to make the switch. "I could have taken him off earlier. But I didn't. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, thinking he could pull himself out of it.

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"I had Crosas on the bench who I felt would have put his foot on the ball a bit more than what we were doing," he added. "So I made that decision. It wasn't a statement or anything like that. It's not a case of trying to embarrass the player. It was just that I had a semi-final to win and I was trying to improve the team as quickly as possible."

Nguemo is unlikely to start tonight as Celtic attempt to win back some favour. Lennon spoke to the players and stressed the need to move on. "It's gone," he told them. "We can't do anything about it." But they can begin to start a recovery in front of fans who will demand a reaction.