Neil Lennon has been coming under increasing scrutiny of late | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
It’s important not to overreact. Celtic are second in the Scottish Premiership table, two games away from completing a historic quadruple treble, and just two points worse off than they were at this stage last season.
But scratch beneath the surface and everything is not as rosy as it could be.
At a club where your budget, history and quality dwarf that of the majority of your domestic competitors, winning is the minimum that is required. But Celtic aren’t doing that right now. With a quality manager like Eddie Howe currently out of work, the pressure is mounting on Neil Lennon with every passing day.
Narrow, unconvincing victories by one-goal margins over the likes of St Mirren, Livingston and Latvian minnows Riga FC had held together Lennon’s crumbling reputation at Parkhead, but when faced with quality opposition, his shortcomings have been laid bare for all to see.
Celtic failed to register a shot on target in their Old Firm derby | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
A toothless display in the first Old Firm derby of the season resulted in a 2-0 defeat as Steven Gerrard’s men dominated from start to finish.
In these highly charged encounters, which are typically witnessed by 50,000 or 60,000 delirious frenetic fans, the pre-proposed plans outlined by the managers can often go out of the window. But on this occasion, an empty Celtic Park allowed for a more tactical battle to take over. It was one that Gerrard and Rangers won with ultimate ease.
The champions’ display summarised their recent performances and results, with Lennon’s men failing to register a single shot on target. It was a team that’s been carefully constructed over the last two and a bit years, taking on a bunch of individuals with seemingly no purpose. The Bhoys didn’t stand a chance.
AC Milan piled on more misery with their Europa League victory at Celtic Park | Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
Over recent seasons one of Celtic’s most admirable traits is how they’ve bounced back from defeats and disappointing results. Just as you thought their vice-like grip over the Scottish footballing scene was loosening, they turned the screw to reassert their dominance over the domestic landscape.
Even that, one of their defining characteristics, has begun to fade. The loss to Rangers was followed up by a defeat to AC Milan in the Europa League and a draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie to leave the Hoops six points off the pace in the Premiership, albeit with a game in hand on their city rivals.
Things won’t get any easy for the side chasing ten in a row either. They threw away a 2-0 lead to draw with Ligue 1’s Lille on Thursday night, while a rearranged Scottish Cup semi-final against Dereck McInnes’ Dons, who denied them three points last time out, is on the horizon. It’s in these moments where top managers earn their money, and so far, Lennon is not justifying his wage.
Lewis Ferguson’s injury time penalty rescued a draw for Aberdeen | Scott Baxter/Getty Images
When a manager like Eddie Howe is on the market, there is only so long a club like Celtic can wait before making their move. Despite their great history and reputation, Scottish football no longer has the pulling power or wealth to attract the world’s best managers, but the former European champions’ astute move for Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2016 shows savvy deals can still be done.
The now Leicester City boss was looking to rebuild his career after his promising spell at Liverpool collapsed in a similarly dramatic fashion to their 2013/14 title push. Mario Balotelli and Ricky Lambert turned out to be inadequate replacements for Luis Suarez (yep, that really happened), and Rodgers’ reputation was in tatters.
Celtic had continued to lift league and cup titles in Rangers’ absence under Ronny Deila, but the preceding years under the Norwegian had failed to yield Champions League football and the Bhoys finished bottom of their Europa League group in 2015/16.
Rodgers guided Celtic to seven consecutive trophies and two Champions League campaigns | Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
They, therefore, were a perfect match. Celtic provided Rodgers with a platform to restore his confidence and reputation, innovating new methods and tactics away from the Premier League glare, and in return, he took the Glasgow giants to heights they hadn’t reached for quite some time.
Howe is cut from the same cloth, and both manager and club are in a similar situation to the one Rodgers and Celtic found themselves in back in 2016. The former Bournemouth man has suffered relegation with the Cherries, and his next position could be vital to his career. Celtic are on the verge of letting ten titles in a row and the accompanying immortality slip through their fingers as Rangers’ revival gains momentum.
The next week or so could determine Lennon’s future at Parkhead, although in reality, his fate should already be sealed. Howe and the Hoops are a partnership that could be as mutually beneficial as they come and an opportunity that perhaps neither can avoid to miss out on.