By Ryan Fleming
There were times in the last several months where the appointment of Neil Lennon as the manager of Celtic FC were questioned, even debated. From getting embarrassed out of the European play to making some curious transfer choices, the Northern Irishman’s time at Celtic Park has been questioned. Now, five points ahead of Rangers, with two games in hand, Lennon is coming into the three most important weeks of his reign as the manager of Celtic while finally having approval of club’s faithful.
This Saturday in a special third out of five Old Firm derbies, Celtic take on Rangers in the Scottish Cup Final. Not only is winning the final obviously important to Lennon’s popularity amongst the Celtic faithful, but it will also prove that the club’s former midfielder is up to monumental games – situations where Lennon has limped out of in the past. Lest not forget crashing out of not only the Champions League, but the Europa League in equally astonishing fashion.
Celtic have been rather impressive as of late. Having not suffered a loss since the 10th of November, Lennon has his club overcoming injuries to key players like Baram Kayal, Gary Hooper, Daniel Majstorovi? and now, most recently James Forrest. With Hooper now back in the starting XI, and seemingly playing at full health, Celtic have flourished from the up-front partnership of Hooper and Anthony Stokes. The recent signing of Cris Commons from Derby County just days before the January transfer window closed also paid dividends in the two games the utility midfielder has played in.
Five minutes into Commons’s debut, the Scottish international lofted a shot from close to 30 yards out that sailed into the top-right corner of the net in Celtic’s 4-1 win over hapless Aberdeen. Commons continued to prove useful in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Dons, winding in threatening corner kicks and making darting runs – infuriating Paul Hartley and pestering the rest of his teammates all the same. Former Celtic manager Gordon Strachan praised the addition of Commons, saying that adding the midfielder could be the difference at Celtic reclaiming the SPL title or not.
Whether Celtic end up on the top of the league has yet to be seen. Rangers and Celtic meet two more times, one in league play at Celtic Park. Lennon’s focus has to maintain on the league and not in cup matches, where trophies are certainly an exclamation point, but do not get you births in European play. While finishing above their cross-town rivals has to remain the zenith of his motivations, Lennon would do well in improving his image with the Celtic faithful by adding some silverware. With a date with Dundee before the last Old Firm clash that has league implications,which will be played on February 20th, these next three games are the season as Celtic are concerned.
Defeating Rangers will go far in seeing that Celtic see their way to the top of the league. Competing in Europe is dire to both Glasgow Clubs. It is now Lennon’s chance to push the team he once dominated the midfield for to the top of the SPL and have his signings to silence the doubters.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.