This Celtic side is worth sticking around for

After ten years of blogging about Celtic on this site and other places, I’d been giving serious consideration to calling it a day. It was purely a personal decision and nothing to do with Celtic, but then something spectacular happened.

Two weeks ago, Neil Lennon achieved yet another of Celtic’s best European results in modern times. And during those moments of jubilation, I changed my mind.

The result in Rome against SS Lazio was a game changer. It made me reconsider shutting down my blog which I started back in 2012, having written elsewhere online for a few years previous.

A decade of putting my thoughts about football (predominantly Celtic) into words online, seemed like a nice round number to end on. There are plenty of things to write about, but time has been my biggest struggle of late.

With Neil Lennon, now in this second spell as manager, making good progress, I sense this is something I cannot miss. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but what he has done in the Europa League group so far is worth sticking around for.

When the tournament began, I felt we could do well against all of our opponents and so far I have not been let down. I had mixed feelings about the match in Rome prior to kick off though.

Lazio were desperate for a win and on home turf and playing effectively two weeks earlier, my head said a win for Le Aquile. The way that match began, it certainly looked like being the case.

Losing in Italy would have been anything but a disgrace. A draw would have been superb.

I’ve seen Celtic lose early goals so many times in Europe over the years by different managers. I haven’t seen many Celtic teams respond to that, but this one did.

The character of the players in Rome was astounding. They’d endured a torrid first half from Lazio, lost and early goal and still managed to pull level before the interval courtesy of James Forrest.

I’d have been happy just to get in at half time without conceding any more. Instead Celtic had turned this match around in a country where they have never won.

Celtic were much more positive in the second half. Chances were coming, but there was still the threat from home side.

At times there were signs that Lazio were running out of ideas. I’ll mention Celtic’s character again because it won us the game.

Lazio looked baffled by Celtic. Fraser Forster was pulling off saves, Celtic were winning 50/50 balls and even getting decent decisions – the latter of which I often find they don’t get in Europe.

Did I smell a match winner? Not a chance.

Not even when Olivier Ntcham came on. Holding out for a draw was more than enough for me.

So when the man I just mentioned ghosted in from the right to take a pass from Odsonne Edouard the last thing I expected was for him to score. And he did just that.

As I’m sure many Celtic supporting living rooms around the world did, mine exploded with joyous celebration. I could not believe we had just beaten Lazio.

I was slightly dismissive of the team who finished 8th in Serie A last season. They had entered this competition having won the Coppa Italia, but despite having lost both games to Celtic, they created enough chances to have got a better result.

It is for that reason that I think that both Celtic victories deserve such great praise. The determination shown, in spite of the fact that in both matches the Bhoys conceded the first goal and then went on to win, shows a mental strength that comes from the top down.

The mentality in this team isn’t just positive. It is driven by a will to win.

Whilst the quality of the squad is far better than that of Neil Lennon’s first term as manager, his rubber stamp on the team has come through loud and clear. He has been given better backing this time around than the first as well.

When Neil stepped up in February, he managed the team without making any alterations. Training, preparation and indeed the way the team played was very much the same.

Neil endured some stick about the way the team were playing toward the end of last season. Many of his critics within the support ignored the fact that he was not interfering in what was largely a winning formula for his predecessor even if it had become dull.

Now with the job as his own Neil is embossing his vision on how Celtic should play. He has addressed problematic areas of the team in one window, something his predecessor failed to.

Despite exiting the Champions League, he has taken this Europa League group by storm. Had we been better prepared earlier in the summer you have to wonder whether we would have been good enough to play in Europe’s premier club tournament after all?

What’s important is that this team are performing and we have a strong squad. It will only get stronger and I sense Neil Lennon could be presiding over a team that will go further in Europe this season.

We may have lost some big players in the last year or so. The team that he has right now though is oozing with quality.

It is for that reason that I am sticking around a little longer just to see what they can do. Ten years seemed like a good number to end on, but maybe I’ll go all Spinal Tap and go to eleven.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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