NEIL LENNON may have expected to celebrate his 50th birthday today preparing Celtic for the new season.

Unfortunately, the Irishman is on the outside looking in after departing the club in February as a season that promised so much disintegrated in such an extraordinary and inexplicable manner.

The quest for the historic tenth successive title was blown shortly after the turn of the year after the Hoops had already crashed out of three competitions – the Champions League, the Europa League and the Betfred League Cup.

It was a campaign of turmoil and torment for the Parkhead followers and it was no surprise when Lennon headed for the exit on February 23, two days after a dismal 1-0 loss to relegation-threatened Ross County in Dingwall.

WINNER…Neil Lennon celebrates after the momentous Scottish Cup triumph over Hearts in December last year – the success that put him in the history books.

In the midst of a landslide of criticism it was easy to overlook the contribution to Celtic by Lennon since he first arrived as a £6million buy from Leicester City by Martin O’Neill in December 2000.

The second-time around manager, who answered an SOS to return to the Hoops dug-out after Brendan Rodgers’ hasty departure in February 2019, became unique in Scottish on December 20 last year when the Parkhead club overcame Hearts 4-3 in a dramatic penalty-kick shoot-out after being held 3-3 following extra-time in the delayed Scottish Cup Final.

Kristoffer Ajer’s belter of a spot-kick past former team-mate Craig Gordon sealed the phenomenal quadruple treble in the only bright spot during a dire campaign.

At that moment, Lennon joined club legends Jock Stein, Martin O’Neill and Brendan Rodgers as Hoops managers to have won a silverware clean sweep. But he also achieved a personal landmark – the only individual to have lifted the coveted treble as a player AND a manager.

Back then, his former colleague Chris Sutton said: “The credit goes to Neil Lennon and nobody can take this success away from him, I was delighted to see him with a beaming smile when all of the drama was over.

A BHOY ALONE…Neil Lennon cuts a figure of frustration during a dismal 2020/21 campaign.

“He’s the first manager in Celtic’s history to achieve what they have, a treble as a player and now a treble-winner as a manager.”

However, Sutton added ominously: “Neil’s come under fire from all quarters, but you shouldn’t look for sympathy and he doesn’t as he knows that’s the nature of the game he’s in.

“I feel that some of the criticism of Neil has been way over the top. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but, sadly, some of those opinions go too far.

“Regardless of what happens in the future, that’s why I’m so pleased for Neil. He’s a treble-winner as a player and a manager. In these terms he’s in a league of his own.”

Neil Lennon has every right to celebrate his landmark birthday today.

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