Davie Hay: Flops have the chance to atone

i WILL be back on the Celtic Park pitch tonight, the club having invited me to make the half-time draw the day after I celebrated my 65th birthday.

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Gary Hooper can't believe he has not taken an early chance to equalise for Celtic against St Mirren on Sunday
Gary Hooper can't believe he has not taken an early chance to equalise for Celtic against St Mirren on Sunday

I don't know what kind of reception I'll get, but I'm confident the fans will be making more noise than they did at Hampden on Sunday.

I believe they are always the true barometer of what is happening on the pitch.

And the supporters were so quiet as they watched Celtic struggle to get to grips with St Mirren that at times what Neil Lennon was screaming from pitchside area could be heard halfway up the main stand.

It was as though supporters could sense something was wrong. Neil did too, judging by his promptings. The pity is that the players could not.

First and foremost, you have to say well done to St Mirren, who got what they deserved from the match.

Their fans, although heavily outnumbered by the Celtic support, got right behind them from the start, and the players rewarded them with the effort they put into delivering this memorable victory.

Even if half of the Celtic players had turned up and performed as they can, it could have been a different story.

But they didn't – and Neil will have spent every minute since the final whistle trying to find out why.

Was it complacency? If so, it should not have been because they were surely well warned before the game just what can happen in semi-finals if you are not right up for it.

They got the earliest of reminders when they went behind after eight minutes, and that opening goal summed up how things were going to go because Conor Newton was allowed too much space and time to cross and no-one went with Esmael Goncalves as he made his run into the box to score.

This kind of defending is not good enough at any time let alone when a cup final place is on the line.

Celtic did rally before half- time when Gary Hooper equalised, and they should have gone ahead when Charlie Mulgrew had the chance from the penalty spot.

But there was no-one prepared to drag them into the game by the scruff of the neck, and this has to be a concern to Neil as he looks ahead to the huge games his side still has to play this season.

That's what they all have to do, look ahead, not back, because there is nothing anyone can do about throwing away the chance to go for the Treble this season.

But Neil will still be wanting answers about what happened yet again when he took a side to Hampden. The speculation surrounding the likes of Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama can't be accepted as any kind of excuse because both had played well in the wins over Hearts and Dundee United.

Gary wasn't the worst on Sunday, getting the equaliser, but eventually even he was dragged down into the malaise afflicting the team, and his touch became heavy.

Victor? That's as poor a game as I have seen him play since his very early days at the club.

If anyone had walked into Hampden and asked who was the midfielder linked with a big-money move to Manchester United and Arsenal, they would have seriously struggled to pick him out.

Neil did not miss any of his players in his post-match assessment, and he was right to say what he did.

He was brutally honest, speaking through a mixture of anger, disappointment and frustration.

This is the team he has built. This is the group of players in whom he has put his faith. This is the side which has shown it is good enough to reach the last 16 of the Champions League.

Players and a team can always lose a big game, but you have always got to play to the best of your ability.

So that kind of performance is not acceptable, either to the manager or to the fans. They are all owed much better, and that has to start tonight when Celtic play Kilmarnock.

Neil has to dust himself down and go again. The players have to follow his lead. The reaction has to be positive and reflect the fact they know they let a lot of people down at the weekend – including themselves.

It's unimaginable that they could put in another performance like that against Killie, and pile unnecessary pressure on the club ahead of Sunday's Scottish Cup-tie against Raith Rovers at Stark's Park.

The fact the Champions League ties against Juventus are creeping ever closer can't be allowed to be put forward as any kind of excuse for them taking their eye off the ball.

If they want to play in those games, they will have to prove to Neil they can be relied on every time.

I don't anticipate he will swing the axe for tonight's game, just tweak things a little here and there.

He will want to give those who failed to deliver at Hampden the opportunity to atone, but they will not be given too many chances, so they have got to bounce back straight away.

That's the belated birthday present I'm hoping for.

retail

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