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If you’ve wondered at any point in the last few months why the hell Neil Lennon is still in a job, then there’s a simple answer.
The delayed 2019/20 Scottish Cup final, which will take place in Hampden on Sunday afternoon.
Despite relentless pressure from fans amid a miserable streak that has turned Ten In A Row from an inevitability to a distant ambition, the Celtic board has stood by their side. They have done it out of loyalty: they want to give you the opportunity to finish what you started.
It would not be fair to Lennon, they believe, to prevent him from being the manager that brings home the historic and never-before-seen quad Treble. He took them so far, he deserves the chance to finish the job.
It is the same sentiment the manager has towards his players ahead of his Hampden date with destiny.
However, in both cases, loyalty is woefully misplaced.
Lennon has seen his team rejuvenate in recent weeks. They have adopted a new look for the matches with Kilmarnock and Lille, with hungry youngsters David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro in charge of midfield. They won both games, without having been able to win any of the previous six.
Scott Brown, Ryan Christie and other members of Celtic’s old guard have taken a backseat as new faces have starred, and any coach worth his salt would be looking to capitalize on that renewed energy, especially with a significant milestone at the club. story on the line.
However, Lennon is more concerned with the past.
“I think I should show a little loyalty to some of the guys who have been there, have done it and taken us there,” he said. Glasgow Live.
“There may be one or two of the new faces there, but I’d like to think that the hardcore that got us there deserves a chance to play.”
What the coach is admitting here is that he is quite happy to pick out-of-shape players, for a cup final, just because he wants to. He will choose a less effective team out of loyalty to players who are less effective. You are happy to overlook those who have earned their starts on merit due to things that happened in the distant past.
Lennon’s quotes also hint at the belief that they will only be able to perform at Hampden and win. That kind of complacency and disrespect for opponents has cost them multiple times so far this season and there is a very real risk that it will happen again this time.
Because the Jambos are all a championship team, they are far better than their position in the structure of Scottish football suggests. Robbie Neilson has a team full of international players; Craig Gordon, Stephen Kingsley, Craig Halkett, Michael Smith, Steven Naismith, Liam Boyce, all of them would be at home on teams much closer to Celtic level than Hearts.
After a year of great mismanagement that ultimately led to relegation, they are once again led by a team of coaches who seem to know what they are doing.
They warmed up for the final with a 6-1 win over the Queen of the South and that was not incongruous with how their season has gone so far.
Celtic fans have been furious at their coach’s reluctance to adapt and what it could cost them. Now, just when it has finally shown signs of change for the better, here it is, about to get back to what was not working. He’s become indefensible, even Chris Sutton has joined the bandwagon.
If Celtic fail to lift the Scottish Cup this weekend, Lennon will surely leave. Reports have suggested he has until the Old Firm derby in the New Year no matter what happens, but it’s hard to see how he could recover from awkwardly in this one.
A victory, either way, would keep him alive for the moment.
However, if misplaced loyalty prevails over common sense, then it could well be another miserable afternoon in the gloomy Glasgow weather.