Bhoys' shock treatment is proof Neil has to cut to cure his ailing side

SHORT-TERM pain for long-term gain.

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Steven Doris' strike silenced the small crowd at Parkhead
Steven Doris' strike silenced the small crowd at Parkhead

That's what Neil Lennon hopes will be the case as he goes over Saturday's draw with Arbroath as a prelude to the Champions League tie against Spartak Moscow.

Failing to dispose of the Irn-Bru Second Division side at the first attempt in the William Hill Scottish Cup is not being dismissed as irrelevant by a man who has had more than his share of cup bloody noses.

Being held 1-1 by the Red Lichties did not cause the red mist to descend on Lennon, in public, at least.

That could have had much to do with the fact he was mindful of sending out any kind of panic message just days before the game which will determine if the Hoops qualify for the last 16 from Group G.

However, the message sent out by players selected for the weekend draw was impossible to misinterpret.

Given the chance to show what they can do in the first team, many of them failed to deliver. If they could not get up for a home game against Arbroath, even allowing for the fact the stadium was only a quarter full, there is little chance of Lennon trusting the same group to atone in the replay at Gayfield.

The season has already been taxing, given the number of high-intensity matches played and the number of important players out injured.

Saturday was the first of eight games – the replay on December 12 taking the place of the re-arranged SPL game against Dundee United – which Celtic must negotiate in the final month of 2012.

Lennon has to try and utilise his squad wisely and effectively, prioritising matches like Wednesday's against Spartak.

But in so doing, the danger is momentum badly disrupted and anxiety raised because results and performances are not consistent.

Taking apart Hearts 4-0 at Tynecastle, sandwiched between a 1-0 home defeat to Inverness and a shock draw against Arbroath – where it took a comic-cuts own-goal from the backside of Alex Keddie to beat Scott Morrison – proves the point.

Lennon has every right to ask the players he selected to face the part-timers why they could not find enough to book safe passage to the fifth round.

Instead, with retaining team spirit for Wednesday in mind, he has elected to engage in a mix of diplomacy and damage limitation.

It is not just for the benefit of SFA compliance officer Vincent Lunny that Lennon is picking his words carefully, and he said: "I didn't realise how many games we have in December.

"It was really beneficial to give so many of the players the day off on Saturday. And the fact we are still in the cup is the important thing.

"It would have been humiliating if we had gone out, but it never really looked like that was going to happen.

"The number of times we worked the ball into good areas and didn't put the chance away or missed the final ball was what disappointed me. It has been a bone of contention with me for the last three weeks at home.

"Our final ball has been poor, and our decision-making in those moments seems to be a bit off-kilter at the moment. But we will find the answer.

"We should have won the game against Arbroath, but we didn't. However, we're still in the cup and looking forward to the replay."

While the first part of that sentence is true, the second part is perhaps debatable.

What is beyond dispute is that Celtic's Achilles' heel was their failure to convert the chances created, with Lassad Nouioui coming closest with one shot which hit the bar and another which was superbly tipped over by Morrison.

Too often, however, greed, lack of awareness or just bad decision-making let the Hoops down.

"People wanted to play, and people wanted me to use the squad," said Lennon. "I did that, and some have come up short.

"I'll maybe have to draw on some of the more experienced players from now on."

The ease with which Steven Doris's free-kick found a way through the Celtic wall as the clock ticked down, with Nouioui turning his back and Beram Kayal jumping when he needed to stand firm, was more disappointing to Lennon than the deflection which ultimately left Lukasz Zaluska stranded.

"They got a deflection for their goal," said Lennon. "That happens in football.

"We'll address the cup replay when it comes."

Before then, there is a much more important hurdle to be negotiated – taking the point or points which can carry them to the knockout round of Europe's elite competition.

The recent visit of Barcelona and the significance of Wednesday's game against Spartak as the dust settles on Saturday's draw with Arbroath underlines the contrast which makes this term so challenging for Celtic.

The constant is the need to get positive results and to remain in all the competitions.

Being confident of which side was going to turn up on any given day would be a huge benefit for a manager who is at the point of eliminating some names from the group he believes he can trust.

Come Wednesday night, a few of them will discover if they are among them.


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