After all the unsavouriness of last season, when Neil Lennon was prominent in the referee-bashing which ultimately resulted in the match officials going on strike, the Celtic manager – perhaps shaken by the threats, bullets in the post and attacks he had been scandalously subjected to – looked to have mended his ways this time round.
Generally he’s seemed a far more amiable, less combustible character, while his occasional work as a TV pundit has certainly endeared him to many who originally viewed him in a negative light.
It could be said that winning regularly has helped bring a calmness to a man who, after some shaky moments, is proving himself a highly adept football manager. However, he has let himself down badly over the past two weekends with the type of rants which were all too common last season.
He was obviously frustrated at missing out on the treble when he used the phrase “criminal decision” after referee Willie Collum waved away Anthony Stokes’ hardly-stonewall penalty claim in stoppage-time in the League Cup final, completely ignoring the fact that his players had underperformed, but we hoped it would prove a one-off from the Ulsterman. How wrong could we be?
Seven days later, and after promising to act with dignity during the Old Firm clash, he promptly gets himself sent off, and criticises referee Calum Murray for sending off Cha Du-Ri. His after-match rant reeked of straw-clutching and sour grapes. If Lennon is to fulfil his undoubted potential as a manager, he will have to handle setbacks with more dignity. But as things stand, Lennon’s hot-headed nature remains an obvious stumbling block to him progressing up the career ladder.
All four senior league championships in Scotland already look done and dusted, with Celtic, Ross County, Cowdenbeath and Alloa in danger of disappearing over the horizon before March is out. There’s still an element of intrigue surrounding the three relegation battles, but, even then, it’s hard to see Dunfermline and Queen of the South surviving in the SPL and First Division respectively.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere, with promotion from the First Division and relegation from the SPL in mind. Sticking with the theme of shaking things up, can anyone explain why there’s no relegation from the Third Division? Every new team that has entered the league over the past 15 years has been a breath of fresh air, with the likes of Ross County, Inverness, Peterhead, Elgin, Gretna (pre-demise) and Annan all bringing the type of vibrancy and ambition that is missing in the stagnant clubs who routinely underwhelm in the lower reaches of the SFL. Get it sorted.
The last time Hearts and Hibs fans were allowed to dream of an all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final was in 2005 when Hearts met Celtic and Hibs faced Dundee United in the semi-finals. Both Capital sides bit the dust at the penultimate stage that year, but, with a similar last-four line-up this time round, I’m convinced Edinburgh can brace itself for what would be its biggest match in living memory.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but Aberdeen and Celtic are not the teams they were even a few weeks ago and I can see both Edinburgh sides coming through, and the build-up . . . well, it would be incredible, wouldn’t it.