Vincent's Blog: One Neil Lennon?

Published on Thursday 6th October, 2011 by Celtic Trust

The thoughts of (Vice)Chairman Vincent Doherty. If you like it, tell us. If you don't, tell him

I’ve not posted for a few weeks. Two long and worthwhile articles, one on the aftermath of the defeat at the bigot dome and one on our collective debt to the Green Brigade have been left on my hard disk. A case of indecision on my part. Hesitation about saying things that perhaps some might find distasteful at a time when the need is for maximum unity amongst the Celtic support. Reluctance to get on board the anti Lennon bandwagon or be seen to take sides with the harbingers of doom who seem to thrive on the need to turn a drama into a crisis.

However, as a long term contributor to the Celtic press and one who usually wears his heart on his sleeve, I find I’ve had to check myself to ensure that I’m not erring on the side of censuring my own thoughts. The things I said after Ibrox were hardly rocket science. The Manager picked the wrong team. Again. As far as I’m concerned Neil Lennon has consistently failed to pick the best team available to him this season. It has been one of his major weaknesses, and one which for the first time recently has seen influential sections of the fans begin to question his long term suitability for the job. He got it wrong again at the Edinburgh bigot dome on Sunday and in the process sowed a level of demoralisation amongst the faithful. Let me illustrate what I mean about his team selection with one simple statistic. The last seven games we’ve started with Hooper and Stokes up front we’ve won. The last seven we’ve started with a different combination up front we’ve failed to register a victory. Put another way Anthony Stokes has started in every game we’ve won.

If I can figure this out from my humble position in the stand, how come Lenny and his substantial back room staff, who are presumably being paid big money to highlight what the consistent features are in the selection of winning teams have not noticed this? Everybody is going on about Lenny having to chop and change because of lack of fitness, and God knows we’ve been plagued by injuries to important players since we lost Izzy on the first day of the season. But when Anthony Stokes has been left out, it has not been because of injuries but because others have been preferred to him.

I’m not saying that Stokes is a panacea, a solution to all our problems. Rather I’m pointing out that his presence in the starting line alongside Hooper has been the one consistent factor in every game we’ve won. If you were to really push the boat out you could say he has been the one consistent feature in our successes.

Again from the stands we can all see that Hooper is twice the player with Stokes at his side than he is without him. It the same way that Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton were more than just the sum of the parts, so too do Stokes and Hooper seem to compliment each other to add up to more than the sum each player on their own.


Big game players?

One of the reasons I refrained from publishing my blog in the aftermath of our defeat at Ibrox was because I was seething with Lenny for his selection of Samaras in place of Anthony Stokes. For the simple reason that it was totally unwarranted. What’s more, in my opinion there is no more sure fire way to undermine and eventually destroy the confidence of a player, than to drop him from all the important games. It has been done to Paddy McCourt by a series of Celtic managers, to such an extent that our one true potential talisman is a mere shadow of the player he was even last season when he was getting regular starts. To do the same thing to Anthony Stokes would be to compound what has already happened to Paddy. It would constitute a crime against the club.

Some senior commentators associated with the club have stated that Lennon’s insistence on continuing to pick Samaras in important games will cost him his job. When I first heard this I thought it was just a case of post bigot dome hyperbole. Right now I think it’s a statement of fact. If Neil Lennon doesn’t get his team selection right he will lose the faith of those sections of the support who have been loyal to him, and stood by him in the face of an unprecedented campaign of racist and sectarian hatred directed at him but aimed at all of us.

It would be a serious set back for our club to lose Neil Lennon and for this reason the players he does select, have really got to begin to step up to the plate and perform like it’s its important for them to be playing for Celtic. They need to know that half hearted, pussy footing, 'whatever you’re having yourself' performances we’ve seen lately will simply not do. We are Celtic. If you’re not prepared to go the extra mile for the jersey than you need to consider moving on to somewhere where less is expected or will be accepted.

When occasionally players do have a few good games and get written up in the press, as in the case of Ki Sung Yeung, it seems to go immediately to their head. They spend the next few games strutting round casually splaying passes like they were some latter day Franz Beckenbaur. Except that Beckenbaur’s passes usually arrived were they were intended and in between the occasional spectacular pass he still continued to tackle, win the ball and provide shape to his team. Instead of the odd spectacular we need to cultivate a culture of doing the ordinary and the everyday well. We also need to do some basic work on heading the ball. I’ve been trying to think of the last time we scored a header from a corner?


Banging heads together

Every week I’m flabbergasted at the fact that despite some real quality ball from corners from the likes of Charlie Mulgrew and Ki,  big players can not simply head the ball on target. I’ve been saying it now for so long I almost feel like I’ve been banging my head against a wall. Lenny was right to single out Bangura for missing what he called ‘a dolly’ on Sunday, but you could argue that at least he got his head on the ball which is a feat that was not replicated to any effect by any of his colleagues. I reckon Stephen McManus probably scored more goals with his head in one season than any of our forwards have since. It’s absolutely shocking given that this is one of the very basic skills employed by football teams and coaches across the world at every level, from the most junior sides to the World Champions.

Apparently until last season Wayne Rooney was not regarded as a header off a ball. This weakness in his game was identified by the coaches and he began to spend time practicing heading the ball. The result was incredible. He scored something like 12 headers in 18 outings. The coaching and the practice caused such an absolute transformation in this aspect of his game that it helped drive his team towards another League Championship and a European Cup Final. If Wayne Rooney through steady coaching and hard work can effect such an incredible transformation, why can’t the same result be achieved by those in the Celtic squad most required to get on the end of headers. It’s time Lenny and the coaches literally started to bang some heads together. As I said earlier it’s not rocket science, and surely someone other than me must have noticed this? I’m not going to accept a fat cheque from the club on this occasion for these modest if potentially season changing insights, but I do expect to see changes. Just seeing Stokes and Hooper lead the line whilst we bang in a few headers directly from corners will be reward enough.


Time to turn things round

I met a few of my close buddies outside Tynecastle on Sunday afternoon. They were both angry and despondent. One or two expressed the opinion that it was time for Lenny to go. I understand the frustration, and indeed the anger. I myself was seething. God knows two Sunday afternoons within a few weeks of each other coming away from the Glasgow and Edinburgh bigot domes respectively, I felt ashamed and badly let down by a team that seemed to lack spirit, passion, backbone and self belief. The vile supremacist anthems our lack of fight back encouraged were still ringing in my ears a few days after each game. But I have to say not for a minute has it crossed my mind that the League is lost. There is more than enough time to come back from such a deficit. We were this far behind with 7 games to go the last time we dug deep and played with the spirit, backbone, passion and self belief to clinch the title at Tannadice on that unforgettable May evening which saw us break their hearts and take revenge for ‘Black Sunday.’ As I recall the goal that secured our victory on the evening was a header direct from a corner. Remember it? Big Jan rose as majestic as a salmon and bulleted a header from Paul Hartley’s perfect corner into the top corner of the net. We need to create a few more goals like that, but more than that, we need to recreate that spirit of defiance that Lenny helped instil in that team that helped make such sweet history.

I’ll never forget passing out ‘their’ buses on the way back from Dundee that night. Lights out they were lying on the floors trying to avoid us reminding them who were the Champions. They didn’t succeed of course. We reminded them the whole way to Glasgow. It sweeter when you come from behind. Sweeter still when you’ve been written off. Those who have written off Lenny’s team might yet be forced to eat their words. For the time being I’m still prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt after all he’s been through and given the very real fact that his squad had been plagued with injuries. As far as I’m concerned for the time being, there’s only one Neil Lennon. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have to listen too and take on board what the fans are saying. Its time to turn things round!


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1 comment
Graham 1888 says:
2011-10-13 22:00:07

Hi Vincent,

Good article.

Good point about the lack of goals from corners etc. Stephen McManus used to score a lot of important goals for us from the back. We could do with someone like him now, someone willing to go where it hurts for the cause.

Hail Hail


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