Has Lennon blown his opportunity?

After Celtic’s shock defeat to Ross County in the Scottish Cup, Caretaker Manager Neil Lennon looks all but certain to miss out on the manager’s job full time after a result that looks to have put paid to any hopes he may have harboured of coaching the Hoops.

Ross County, a relatively small outfit it has to be noted, were more than good value for the 2-0 win and can be rightly proud of their excellent cup run which will now see them contest the final – Celtic on the other hand will only be left to dwell on both some terrible defending and poor finishing, which in itself provides a snapshot of their awful campaign up until this point as they saw their last chance of silverware slip through their fingers.

Neil Lennon, a club legend as a player has forged a reputation at Celtic for being a solid coach very much in the Martin O’Neill mould, but this terrible result should see him effectively ruled out of the running now for the full time job.

I’m not saying he’s not a suitable candidate for the job, I’m all for younger managers being given a chance to break through for it’s something that doesn’t happen anywhere near enough at this level, but the Celtic job may have come just a tad too soon for him and I’d like to see him cut his teeth at a lower level first to see if he really has the talent to coach in the upper echelons of the game. Its clear for all to see that Lennon bleeds green and white and looks destined for the job one way or another at some point in his career, which it has to be said is still in its relative infancy.

The result has been compared to John Barnes’ now infamous defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle some ten years ago that ultimately led to the belated former Liverpool man’s sacking and with it the last chance he has ever had since of coaching at a top club. There was at least one good thing to come of that fateful day though, albeit in the form of an inspired headline, “SuperCallieGoBalistsicCelticWereAtrocious” – excellent isn’t it?

Many observers thought Lennon didn’t stand much of a chance at the top job anyway due to his relative inexperience and the fact that the clubs hierarchy may have had their fingers burned by their experience with Barnes, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, and although this defeat is probably the final nail in the coffin, he was the bookies favourite up until today and would bring both stability to the club for the time being as well as being the cheapest option available.

Former Man City manager Mark Hughes has appeared to be a favourite amongst pundits and bookies alike, as have former reserve team boss and player Willie McStay and Paul Lambert who has done an excellent job down at Norwich and is hard to tie down to a club at the best of times. Roy Keane and Falkirk manager John Hughes remain the outside bets.

The one manager I would like to see in the mix other than the usual lot of has beens who circle the sofas of televised phone in shows and football coverage in far flung countries (I’m looking at you David O’Leary) would be Cardiff manager David Jones, who has done a terrific job under severe constraints for the Bluebirds, and whose patience must have been sorely tested by the haphazard mismanagement of beleaguered former Leeds Chairman Peter Risdale.

Lennon was refreshingly honest in his post match comments and rightfully stated that “County wanted it more. It has been endemic all season. We have gone out of every competition with a whimper.”

He went onto talk about his own chances of the vacant managerial post adding “I’ll carry on until the end of the season and see what happens”, before giving a stinging assessment of the squad saying that he envisaged a summer clear out because “the players we thought would be good enough ultimately were not. If I’m not here, I’m pretty certain that some of them won’t be either.”

These are extremely testing times for Celtic football club, a period of uncertainty looks set to continue and results like these certainly don’t help. Neil Lennon’s comments after the game seem to indicate a man who knows he’s been dealt a bad hand but has to get on with it anyway, there’s a certain resignation in his tone and you can infer from that, that he thinks his chance has been blown by his underperforming side, on the evidence of this result, and even more worryingly, the distinct lack of fight unusual from a Celtic side, you’d be hard pressed to disagree.

Written by James McManus