Neil Lennon's Misplaced Loyalty Might Finally Cost Him His Job When Celtic Face Hearts at Hampden

Robbie Copeland
Lennon's hints at loyalty should come as serious cause for concern
Lennon's hints at loyalty should come as serious cause for concern / RUSSELL CHEYNE/Getty Images

If you've wondered at any point over the last few months why on earth Neil Lennon is still in a job, then there is a simple answer.

The delayed 2019/20 Scottish Cup final, which takes place at Hampden on Sunday afternoon.

Despite relentless pressure from fans amid a miserable run that has turned Ten In A Row from an inevitability into a distant ambition, the Celtic board have stuck by their man. They have done so out of loyalty: they want to give him the chance to finish what he started.

It wouldn't be fair to Lennon, they feel, to prevent him from being the manager who brings home the historic, never-before-seen quadruple Treble. He got them this far - he deserves the chance to finish the job.

It's the same sentiment the manager towards his players heading into their Hampden date with destiny.

Yet in both cases, the loyalty is woefully misplaced.

Lennon has seen his team rejuvenated in recent weeks. They have taken on a new look for matches with Kilmarnock and Lille, with hungry youngsters David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro taking charge of the midfield. They won both games, having failed to win any of their previous six.

Scott Brown, Ryan Christie and other members of the Celtic old-guard have taken a back seat while the new faces have starred, and any manager worth his salt would be looking to capitalise on that renewed energy, especially with a significant milestone in the club's history on the line.

Yet Lennon is more concerned with the past.

"I think I should show a bit of loyalty to some of the boys who've been there, done that and got us there," he said, per Glasgow Live.

“There might be one or two of the new faces in there but I’d like to think the hardcore that got us there deserve an opportunity to play in it.”

What the manager is admitting here is that he is quite content to pick out-of-form players, for a cup final, just because he wants to. He will pick a less effective team out of loyalty to the players who are less effective. He's happy to overlook those who have earned starts on merit because of things that happened in the distant past.

Lennon's quotes also hint at a belief that they will just be able to show up at Hampden and win. That sort of complacency and lack of respect for opponents has cost them multiple times so far this season and there is a very real risk it will happen again this time out.

Because for all the Jambos are a Championship team, they're far better than their position in the Scottish football structure suggests. Robbie Neilson has a team full of international players; Craig Gordon, Stephen Kingsley, Craig Halkett, Michael Smith, Steven Naismith, Liam Boyce, all of whom would be at home in teams far closer to Celtic's level than Hearts'.

After a year of gross mismanagement eventually led to their relegation, they are once again being led by a coaching team who seem to know what they're doing.

They warmed up for the final with a 6-1 victory over Queen of the South and that was not incongruous with how their season has gone so far.

Celtic fans been furious with their manager's reluctance to adapt and what it could cost them. Now just as that has finally shown signs of change for the better, here he is, about to revert to what wasn't working. It has become indefensible - even Chris Sutton has joined the bandwagon.

If Celtic fail to lift the Scottish Cup this weekend then surely Lennon will be gone. Reports have suggested he has until the Old Firm derby at the New Year no matter what happens but it's difficult to see how he could possibly recover from fumbling this one.

A win, by any means, would keep him alive for the time being.

If misplaced loyalty does prevail over common sense, however, then it could well be another miserable afternoon in the dreary Glasgow weather.