For now, Celtic is hanging on to Neil Lennon – but he needs to save 10-in-a-row bid to survive at Parkhead

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LINDSAY MATTHEW

The dissatisfaction started with the Champions League embarrassment against Ferencvaros in August.

Among Celtic fans, there were those who wanted to see a shift in the dugout in October, when Rangers claimed a 2-0 victory at Parkhead in the Premier League to pull four points clear.

As Sparta Prague won 4-1 in the Europa League group stage in November, the number of supporters turning against Neil Lennon grew substantially.

The elimination of the Betfred Cup against Ross County, which followed the second serious loss, sparked a violent demonstration outside Celtic Park and resulted in deafening calls for the dismissal of the coach.

Then it was very hard to see how the Northern Irishman could succeed when the reigning Scottish champions struggled to beat St. Johnstone in Glasgow in early December, leaving them 13 points off the top of the table.

But through all this, the floods of social media, the threatening posters, the throwing of missiles, the nasty police squabbles, the attack on the team bus, the marches on the field, the Celtic board stood firm and stood by their man.

Will these board members, who last month said they would revisit Lennon’s “in the new year” situation after giving him a vote of confidence for the second time in seven days, be prepared to back him if he fails to deliver 10-in-a-row, which now seems inevitable?

Celtic will also catch up and surpass their city rivals in arithmetic. They are 19 points back after the cruel 1-0 loss at Ibrox on Saturday. But there are still three games in their possession and two Old Firm matches to play. A victory in both of those games will leave them four points behind. The leaders of the league could slip up as well. In the past two years, they’ve done so.

But all those are ifs, buts, and maybe. It is a lot to ask of a team whose results in the 2020/21 season have so often fallen short, even though they have recently shown signs of progress. In the coming weeks, will they make their mark in games on the artificial turf in Livingston and Kilmarnock?

Even if replacements for Kristoffer Ajer, Nir Bitton and Shane Duffy are found in the January transfer window, Christopher Jullien’s absence, who will be out for up to four months, will not benefit them.

The success of the guests in Govan should also buy some time for Lennon. Celtic were the better team for the entire 90 minutes, but consistently struggled to find their opponents’ keeper Allan McGregor, fell behind to an own goal, and stopped the hosts from taking even a single shot on goal. It was more evidence, despite the narrow loss, that the team is on the way forward.

Chief executive Peter Lawwell and major shareholder Dermot Desmond are unlikely to decide any time soon. Not so long as there is still a vestige, though thin, of hope.

In this day and age, the help shown to their boss is unusual. It was commendable in the circumstances to consider the causes that had contributed to the dip in form – match cancellations, injuries to key players, shortage of supporters, bad form of new signings and positive coronavirus tests.

Many club hierarchies might have been all too pleased to swing the hammer away from themselves to divert publicity.

But the mood music will change dramatically as the four-time treble winner’s long reign as Premiership champion comes to an end.

When the season ticket money is safely in the bank, it is all well and good to get behind the boss. But when they ask their paying customers to renew for next season, would the bean counters be able to do that?

For any soccer team, the Covid 19 pandemic has created financial difficulties and Celtic are not immune. Can they risk refusing to pay cash to unhappy clients, even with a long waiting list, because they are disappointed with the way the team is heading?

If there is no guarantee of getting into the games as it is now, a few will not be prepared to pay. There were calls for refunds last month.

As the cry for his replacement reached its height, the success Lennon had achieved after replacing Brendan Rodgers in 2019 – winning all four domestic competitions in which Celtic participated – was considered. Certainly, he had won some loyalty.

Since then, in the rescheduled Scottish Cup final at Hampden, his penalty shootout victory over Hearts gave him his fourth

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