Whatever occurs in tonight’s Europa League away to Sparta Prague, Neil Lennon should not take too many risks on players. The primary goal must be on the domestic scene from this point onwards.
Let’s face it, Europe has not been a happy hunting ground for Celtic this season. Having wiped the floor with KR Reykjavik 6-0 in Champions League qualifying, Celtic then lost 1-2 at home Ferencavaros.
That disaster meant parachuting into the Europa League where Scotland’s other European representatives awaited their own fare. A narrow win over Riga FC and FK Sarajevo saw Celtic grouped with Milan, Lille and Sparta Prague.
It’s fair to say things have not gone very well in this group either. In fact the results have contributed to the pressure on Neil Lennon to deliver over all.
Two home defeats and one away draw means that Celtic are in all likelihood out of Europe with three games remaining. Celtic would need to win their remaining three Group H matches to be assured of a place in the last 32.
Not an easy task when you consider two of these are away and both of those teams have already beaten beaten the Hoops at Celtic Park. There are other other combinations of results that would see them through but that would require a large slice of fortune, something which has eluded the Celtic all season.
So I am not hedging my bets or pinning my hopes on a recovery in Europe. Certainly not at the expense of more players getting injured.
I would much rather see Neil Lennon roll out fringe players, but I also know that won’t happen as he will be expected to get some kind of result. Between now and our next Premiership match, we have two Europa League away games and a home League Cup tie in between.
The cup tie against Ross County on Sunday is important as it keeps us in the hunt for a domestic trophy and after all it is our trophy to defend. However, all eyes will be on the Premiership contest, which if you were ever any doubt of existing before, then there almost certainly is now.
When Neil Lennon recorded his first title as Celtic manager, it was not a straight forward achievement. There is also a strong similarity to that season as there is to the current one.
Celtic are playing a proper catch-up for the first time since the 2011-2012 season. By the beginning of November that season, Lennon found himself in a similar position to the one he is in now.
On November 6th, Celtic travelled to Fir Park 15 points behind Rangers with two games at hand. Europe had been almost as unimpressive as this one as well.
Having lost to FC Sion in qualifying, Celtic got a reprieve and reinstated to the campaign. This had been at the expense of the Swiss club’s use of banned players.
Despite this, Celtic still failed to qualify from the group stage that contained Atletico Madrid, Udinese and Rennes. The season before, Lennon had not been expected to deliver as much as a rookie, but now in his second full season in charge, he was.
He had already lost to St Johnstone, Rangers and Hearts in the league. There were also draws with Kilmarnock and Hibs, the former of which the Hoops had been 3-0 down at half time.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? Well I’ll continue.
Celtic were also without nine players through injury. This was grossly affecting defensive duties and it showed.
Having beat Motherwell on that day in early November, they began a run of undefeated domestic games all the way through to March. That coupled with a few bad results by Rangers meant that the gap was closing – a much bigger gap than the one we currently have it must be said.
Will history repeat itself for Celtic? Who knows, but never forget how bad things have been in the past to know how you can recover.
With as many issues off the field as one, it has to be said that season 2011-2012 was tougher for Neil Lennon than the current one. In the face of adversity, it all came together.