Neil Lennon, a name which brings songs of adulation from one side of Glasgow and songs of a rather unpleasant nature from the other. There is no doubt that Neil Lennon is both an iconic yet controversial figure within Scottish football and it was no surprise that he was the man Celtic turned to when Brendan Rodgers left at the end of February but is he the man to take Celtic to the prophesied 10 in a row, or rather a stability measure to the end of the season?
Lennon on the surface at least appears to have picked up where Rodgers left off, with 5 wins and a draw in all competitions so far but it remains the subject of much debate within the realm of Scottish football as to whether performances thus far warrant Lennon getting the full-time role. A common theme of Lennon’s second tenure is his tendency to stick to Rodger’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, even when the game appears to be swinging in favour of the opponent.
The most notable example of this is Celtic’s 0-0 draw with Aberdeen in Lennon’s third game in charge where Lennon refused to make significant tactical changes to the team despite Aberdeen dominating the second half and creating numerous chances and arguably, Aberdeen were unfortunate not to come away with more from Celtic Park. Lennon came under particular scrutiny by both the media and Celtic Fan’s for the lacklustre performance especially for their delay in building sustainable attacks/chances on goal despite being dominant in possession (69%). However, this has been a common problem for Celtic this season, with their lack of urgency in possession being a particular gripe amongst fans.
This second half dip, unfortunately, has become a rather common occurrence of Lennon’s second tenure at Celtic however, with the second half of the 1-0 win away at Dundee being a notable example where Dundee grew in confidence and looked to hit Celtic on the counter-attack on numerous occasions. Celtic, however, stuck through a challenging period in the game and won it in dramatic fashion with a 96th Minute winner from Odsonne Edouard. Credit must be given to Lennon for developing a certain level of mental grit and resilience, something which Celtic particularly lacked under Rodgers especially in the first half of this season.
A particular example of this came against Rangers in the infamous Old Firm derby where despite Rangers “going for it” and creating several chances in Celtic’s 18 yard box after Ryan Kent’s equaliser rather than crumble as was the case in the previous Old Firm, Celtic showed incredible resilience with 10 men following Dedryck Boyata’s injury to come back fighting and scored a second deep in the second half on the counter following a spell of immense Rangers pressure and credit has to given to both managers for what was a fighting display from both sides with 10 men in the latter stages, the unity that Lennon’s side shown in the post-match celebrations suggested that he well and truly had “brought the thunder back” to this Celtic side as he once intended.
Another positive aspect of Lennon’s second tenure in charge is his role in the development of Celtic’s vast array of young talent, with two players, in particular, reaping the benefits being Kristoffer Ajer and Timo Weah. Ajer, a ball-playing centre back has admittedly gone “under the radar” to a certain extent despite becoming a mainstay of the Celtic side in early 2018 however, his recent displays have earned much praise from Lennon, the Celtic support and the Scottish media, in particular after his incredible performance against Rangers in the recent Old Firm derby, with Ajer’s line breaking dribbles, exceptional pass completion rate and his outstanding last gasp clearance to deny Joe Worrall from adding almost a certain equaliser.
The leadership and composure shown by the 20-year-old Norwegian on a massive occasion in Scottish Football is commendable and it would appear he is certainly one for the future.
Weah, a brilliant young prospect on-loan from PSG has found playing time hard to come by under Lennon but when it has came he has certainly made an impression both on the result and amongst the Celtic faithful. Up until the recent 2-0 win against St Mirren in which Weah scored his first goal under Lennon and won man of the match, Weah had never played more than 20 minutes in a game since Lennon took charge but when he comes on there is no disputing the fact that he brings a certain zip or spark to many laboured Celtic performances and he brings bags of pace, energy and technical ability which has caused problems for the defenders he comes up against and should the young American return to Celtic Park next season, he would be welcomed back with open arms by the Celtic support.
To the neutral and passive observer Lennon would appear to be a strong candidate for the permanent position with 5 wins and 1 draw so far, however, despite positive results Celtic have a tendency to leave it late to snatch winners since Rodgers’ departure, with a significant 56% of goals being scored between the 76-90th minute. There are positive signs however which could swing in Lennon’s favour. The fighting spirit is back, Ajer looks a top prospect, a look at Celtic’s expected goals (x.G) against St. Mirren (3.99) implies that the attacking hunger and desire is returning and the appeal of an iconic club figure leading the club to an unprecedented 10 league titles in a row is obviously an appealing prospect to both the Celtic board and support.
However, there is also significant room for improvement and scraping 1-0 wins in the 96th minute away at Dundee despite the old cliché of “being the mark of champions” simply isn’t good enough for the best team in the league and questions have to be asked as to whether Lennon has the tactical awareness and ability to progress this Celtic side both domestically and in Europe.
Celtic fans what are your thoughts? Is Lennon the right man to lead Celtic to 10 in a row or would you prefer a fresh face at the club? If so who?