NEIL LENNON presided over another Celtic calamity as the team collapsed to a second consecutive humiliating Europa League Group H 4-1 trouncing from Sparta Prague in the Czech capital last night.
Afterwards, the Hoops boss insisted defiantly he was the man to lead the champions through a period that is threatening to turn what should have been a monumental season into a catastrophic one.
The Hoops were the top seeds in their section against the Czechs, AC Milan and Lille. Now, with one point from a possible 12, they are already out of Europe, conceding a landslide 13 goals in four games and scoring five in reply.
For a moment against Sparta, it looked as though the Hoops might get back on track after only two wins from their previous eight outings when Odsonne Edouard fired them into a 15th-minute advantage following a slick finish following a sweeping move.
However, awful defending from a collection of Celtic culprits allowed the home side to go in 2-1 ahead at the interval and the free-gift scheme continued late into the encounter when the visitors squandered two free-kicks in good positions that ended in breakaways with Scott Bain being required to pick the ball out of his net on two more occasions.
HEADING FOR THE EURO EXIT…Neil Lennon shouts from the sidelines.
Asked if he is the man to overcome the obstacles with the present squad of players, Lennon, speaking to the Daily Mail, answered: “Of course, I do. I know this group better than anybody.
“Look, at the end of last year we lost to Rangers and everyone was writing us off.
“We were getting slaughtered from all and sundry, whether it was our own supporters or everyone else in the game saying the league was over. So, we’ve been here before.
“We put a great run together in the second half of last season and we can do that again.
“This feels a little bit different – that we have a bit more work to do – but we’re still quite confident we’ll turn it around.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do catching up in the league, but it’s not beyond us. Far from it.”
Defying the growing clamour for his resignation, he said: “I’ve been in situations like this as a player.
“There is no reason for me to believe that we can’t turn it around. They are an excellent group.
“I think they are just lacking a little bit of unity at the minute. I don’t know if that is because we are living through a pandemic and there are things out of their control.
FRENCH FANCY…Odsonne Edouard slams in the early opener.
“I think they are missing atmosphere of the stadiums, as well. We have to try and remedy that and adapt to it. I don’t think it’s a major football issue.
“I think it’s more psychological than anything else, really.”
Lennon was locked in the dressing room with his players after the latest dismal display before emerging to meet the media.
He explained: “I was asking them why we’re conceding goals. Are we lacking confidence in ourselves? Are we lacking that as a group?
“It was a conversation I put out to the players to get their opinions.
‘We’re hoping, having spoken about it, they can galvanise themselves from that. It’s not good enough, it’s unacceptable the manner of the defeat.
“That’s two defeats to Sparta now. But I thought the performance was nowhere near as disjointed or as bad as it was two weeks ago.
START OF THE DOWNFALL…the Celtic defence is all over the place as Sparta Prague level.
“And I felt we deserved better out of the game. That has to be something we’re positive about.
“When you’re going through a run like this confidence is a big thing. And a few of them are lacking a bit of confidence.
“It’s my job to keep with them and for them to keep with us to turn a corner.”
The defence is hemorrhaging goals at an alarming rate and they have now conceded TWENTY-ONE times in the last nine games.
Lennon, whose side will take on Ross County in the opening defence of the Betfred League Cup at Parkhead on Sunday, added: “We are bitterly disappointed with the run that we are on. But we know we have the minerals to turn it around.
“And we know we have to turn it around quickly, but it’s something that is not going to happen overnight.
FACE OF DEFEAT…Scott Bain expresses anguish after the third goal.
“We are out of Europe, so we have to concentrate on domestic duties now that is the whole focus.
“‘The league is the priority now. We have a League Cup game at the weekend. We have to defend that trophy then look forward to a run of games in the league that will hopefully bring a bit of confidence and momentum.
“That’s what we are lacking at the minute. It’s been very stop-start.
“We are looking a bit disjointed as a group. We need that unity back because they prove to me last season that they can do it.
“Nothing has changed other than living conditions and training conditions.”