NEIL LENNON found himself in direct line of some ferocious criticism after the turn of the year in 2021 with Celtic’s bid for a historic tenth successive title in tatters.

The first game of the New Year was at Ibrox on January 2 where Callum McGregor deflected a right-wing corner-kick past Vasilis Barkas for the only goal of the contest.

Immediately after the match, the Hoops flew to Dubai for their annual sunshine training during the break. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the trip became a massive backfire on the Parkhead outfit.

The club came under fire for their actions and the controversial situation was further fuelled with the news Christopher Jullien had tested positive upon his return and FOURTEEN players were forced into isolation, including the manager and his assistant John Kennedy.

APPEALING…Neil Lennon urges for more from his Celtic players.

Gavin Strachan took charge of a depleted team in the 1-1 draw with Hibs at Parkhead and was again in the dug-out for the soulless scoreless stalemate with Livingston in Glasgow three days later.

As Lennon prepared a full squad for the midweek match against Livi in West Lothian on January 20 with the team looking for their first win of the year at the fourth attempt, his former team-mate John Hartson had joined the voices calling for the manager to go.

With the reigning champions 21 points adrift of Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox outfit with three games in hand, the ex-striker insisted it was time for the Northern Irishman to leave the manager’s position.

Asked about the plea from Hartson, Lennon snapped: “It means NOTHING.

His one-time colleague had said: “I think a change is needed. The time has come. there are 15 or 16 games still to go and it’s the perfect opportunity for the board to say: ‘We need to get this right’.

“They have to give another manager the opportunity to run the club now. The club need to change it, whether Neil goes now or goes at the end of the season.”

SNOWED UNDER…Neil Lennon winces as he watches Celtic draw 2-2 at Livingston on January 20 2021.

A bristling Lennon fired back: “John has an opinion, like more people on the periphery of the game. You either take it on board or you don’t.

“It has no impact on me. It means nothing.

“When he is praising me, it means nothing. When he’s talking about me losing my job or being removed from my job, it means nothing to me.

“John feels he has a job to do. Yeah, he could have rang me first and had a chat about it.

“But when you are on the media side – and I’ve been there myself – it’s an easy life.”

Asked about the mountainous task ahead, Lennon said: “Well, we’ve got to win every game. It’s as simple as that. The players are capable of doing it.

“We were really going well, played well at Ibrox and were the better team.

“And then this (the coronavirus reaction) has happened. So, we just have to galvanise ourselves and go again.

“This season has been totally disrupted constantly. We’ve had very little room for momentum building.

GRIM-FACED…Neil Lennon in the fall-out of another disappointment.

“You had the Bolingoli incident at the start of the season, then you had four guys on international duty ruled out and that disrupted our preparations.

“And then we’ve had this, the whole fall-out which I think has been completely over the top.”

Questioned about the continued backing of the board, Lennon added: “Yes, they’re fully behind me. I’m in contact with Peter (Lawwell) daily.

“There has been no talk of any change or any difference to my position.

“I’ve always been appreciative of the support Peter and the board have given me. They’ve been absolutely wonderful.

“It’s only a month ago that we won the treble. Since I’ve come back, we’ve won five trophies in a row.

“That seems to have been forgotten very quickly by some people.

“It’s not an easy thing to do. I think I’m the first person ever to win the treble as a player and manager.

“So, I’m not saying the performances have been good this season. They haven’t. I’m not shying away from that.

“But, you know, we’re going through a difficult period. We’re going through a bit of adversity. And you need to be strong.

“I think I’m completely the right man for the job. I have the backing of the board – and the players, as well.”

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