Neil Lennon wants Celtic players to rev up in final third but also calls for fans' patience

THIRTEEN months ago, in a corner of a very-congested Hearts press room, deep in the bowels of Tynecastle where his team had just lost 2-0, a quietly spoken Neil Lennon opined that, if results didn't change soon, he might have to look at his position.

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A handful of fans called on Neil Lennon to quit as Celtic boss
A handful of fans called on Neil Lennon to quit as Celtic boss

They did. The team came back from falling 15 points behind Rangers, went on a winning run, and the SPL title was returned to Celtic Park.

On Wednesday, Lennon will once again take his side to Gorgie. And, despite the fact they could be in the last 16 of the Champions League a week later, the manager is once again talking in terms of severing his connection with the club which is fused with his heart.

This time around, it is the dissatisfaction of a few vociferous supporters with whom the manager engaged during the 1-0 defeat to Inverness at the weekend which has prompted this offer to quit, albeit one which is not being taken seriously by anyone within the club.

Unlike last year, Lennon's team is delivering, although not with the consistency in the SPL which is demanded by a man who will not accept anything less than he knows his players are capable of bringing to the table.

The players were left in no doubt of this after they trudged off the field, having failed miserably to counter the single goal scored by Billy McKay on 64 minutes which gave Inverness their first-ever league win at Parkhead.

The ramifications are nothing like what they were when the Highland side won a Scottish Cup-tie at the same venue in 2000, a result which cost John Barnes his job.

However, Lennon did not miss his under-achieving players and hit the wall.

His criticism and warnings found their intended targets, and a few players will report to Lennoxtown today in full knowledge that atonement must start immediately, or else they will be facing the most important period of the club's season holding a ticket to watch rather than a jersey in which to participate.

Injuries to key players make it impossible for Lennon to be completely ruthless, and a few who have been guilty of picking and choosing which games in which to go beyond the call of duty and those in which not even to go up to the mark have used this paucity of options as a shield.

However, Lennon has left no-one in any doubt this will not be allowed to continue, and that the same level of importance must be afforded a match against Inverness as it is against Barcelona.

"I really voiced my displeasure to a few individuals and voiced my displeasure at our play in the final third," the manager revealed.

"When you have so much possession, and you have players who are defending very well, working really hard to get the ball back, then we are wasteful in the final third, that disappointed me."

Lennon had previously warned his players they must be on their A game at all times or risk being dropped.

Asked if he believed that warning had permeated, he said: "I don't know – obviously not.

"I pick the team, so I have to carry the can. But the level of performance from some of the players on Saturday was not what I expected from them."

It was not the actual effort served up against Terry Butcher's side which so irked Lennon, more the lack of care and attention in the final third given to turning possession and position into chances and goals.

It is not a new phenomenon this season, as the fact they have already shipped 17 points in 14 games confirms.

Fortress Parkhead has been the real problem. They have scored only seven goals in their seven games – 10 fewer than away from home – and the fans are being short-changed.

The fact they are still top of the league – until Aberdeen play tomorrow, at any rate – is more an indictment of what a topsy-turvy, transitional season it is than confirmation the champions are still top dogs.

Consistency is the key to any lasting success. It is what eventually pulled Celtic out of the mire at this stage last season, and it is what Lennon demands is re-introduced to performances and results this time around.

The manager insists his threat to go was not bluster or a shot across anyone's bows designed to spike the guns of dissenting voices.

"I have considered my comments (about quitting)," he explained. "I don't accept it. I understand people's frustrations, but there is a lack of patience at times with the team.

"If we don't get it right, then obviously I will be under pressure. But we are in all competitions, and I think it is uncalled for at times."

Perspective has to be maintained, not just by the fans, but by everyone when considering just how many people were involved in the spat with the manager.

While one man in a bright coloured jacket caught the eye, and the full force of Lennon's ire, it is not mass insurrection. Nevertheless, Lennon is honest enough to acknowledge: "There were a lot of fans there who were not happy with the team's performance. I understand that, to a certain extent. They pay their money. But I didn't think they performed too bad at all. I just felt that, in the final third, we were found wanting."

The result was more disappointing than the performance, as the reaction of most fans at the final whistle reflected.

"I can understand that at the end, and there is no-one more disappointed than me," said Lennon. "But, this (the incident with the fans behind the dugout) was 25 minutes, half an hour to go.

"It does get through to the players at times and there is an anxiety about the way they play. It's been the case since I came in the door, and I'm sure it was the case 30 or 40 years before that. The players have to handle that a bit better.

"But there are times when the fans can keep their opinions until the end of the game when the players are trying their best to get something out of the game for us."

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