Tuesday 20th September 2011
The defeat in Sunday’s Old Firm clash still sticks in the craw. Even the manager – in very honest fashion – deplored the lack of commitment by the side in the second half, echoing the feelings of many fans throughout the world. Some might say that there is little point in him bemoaning that fact. As the man at the helm, he should be doing something about it. And yet, right at this moment, I have a certain amount of sympathy for Neil Lennon.
Over the past year, he has brought in a number of players, from all corners of the world, at considerable expense. Scouts from every footballing nation will have been sending in videos and CDs of their recommended players and then Neil’s chosen lieutenants – and occasionally himself – will have watched them a few times before bringing them in.
Scouting is not an exact science. Granted, it is possible to judge certain factors from a perusal of a player’s performances over a period of time. His fitness can be assessed, his touch and skill noticed, his awareness and vision monitored. Unfortunately, though, one of the most crucial factors that we would want every new signing to have cannot really be judged until the player pulls on the Hoops jersey. The question is a simple but vital one; can he rise to the challenge required to be a Celt?
Through the decades, a number of players have failed to do that. Celtic teams have very seldom lacked ability; in the un-successful eras, they regularly did not rise to the occasion. Neil was let down by more than a few on Sunday. Then, just when he was at his lowest point after the match, up pops Kris Commons on Twitter ( the problems that social networking site causes!) to disagree with his manager’s assessment of his fitness prior to the match. I should imagine that a confrontation with a player not involved on Sunday was the last thing Neil needed, hence my sympathy.
I cannot be bothered with players giving extensive views to the press after a defeat, particularly when they tell us what they are going to do to the same opposition the next time they meet! Please spare me from that. Quite a few of Sunday’s team – and they will know who they are only too well – let the manager, the club and the fans down. The way to make up for that is to show their passion for Celtic by raising their form over the rest of the season, starting with Ross County on Wednesday.
At this moment, Celtic are in second place in the Premier League, Ross County in 8th place in the First Division. That means there are 18 places between them, so should it be much of a contest? Well, did we not say that before the Scottish Cup semi-final in 2010? Seriously, though, this should be a match that Celtic can use to come back into form. They have scored 16 goals to County’s 7; lost 6 to the northener’s 9; won 5 from 7 to County’s 1 from 6.
Yes, there will be considerable difference between the 50,221 who were packed into Ibrox on Sunday and a full house at Victoria Park in Dingwall, which would amount to 6,700. But no excuses will be acceptable; the fans expect Celtic to win and with a resounding performance at that!
A piece of action occurred at the weekend that Neil might use to gee up his players. As you are probably aware, my four sons all played First Division rugby and I spent a fair part of the decade of the 1990s travelling round the British Isles watching them play. The rugby World Cup is on just now in New Zealand and in a Pool C match on Saturday, Ireland met Australia. The latter were the favourites for the match, the Aussies having overcome New Zealand and South Africa to win the recent Tri-Nations competition.
On Saturday, though, every single Irish player rose to the occasion, refused to give their Aussie opponents any quarter, were first to every ball, competed at full throttle for 80 minutes and eventually got the win they richly deserved. It was a perfect example of possibly a lesser team – in terms of quality – rising to the challenge and I salute them for it! It should be compulsory viewing for players of every team sport.