CELTIC record-breaker Neil Lennon and his players step onto the title tightrope again against Hamilton Accies this afternoon.
The Hoops gaffer realises there is no margin for error as they attempt to claw back a 16-point gap on Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox side.
The nine-in-a-row champions have three games – and a potential nine points – in hand and Lennon knows that is is crucial there are no slip-ups against Accies or Dundee United at Parkhead on Wednesday as they bring down the curtain on a rollercoaster 2020.
Six points from the two matches are a must before the confrontation at Ibrox on January 2 as the team embark on their almighty bid for a tenth successive championship.
Author Alex Gordon turns the clock back in his latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’., which features the club’s remarkable fifty-one crowns in their glorious history.
In an edited extract, Alex looks at a vitally-important evening in Edinburgh as Lennon faced up to the rigours as interim manager after the sudden exit of Brendan Rodgers. The veteran of fifteen Celtic books writes:
READ ALL ABOUT IT…Alex Gordon’s latest Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’.
WITH the kick-off to a Premiership encounter against Hearts just over thirty hours away, Neil Lennon probably didn’t have time to detect the ice cracking under the weight of expectation.
Celtic were eight points clear at the top of the table at the time, but a slip at Tynecastle, where they had carelessly shed three points in August, would have invited Steven Gerrard and Co into the cherished belief they could capitalise on the perceived calamitous upheaval across the city.
Heading towards the regulation ninety minutes, Celtic were toiling 1-1 against a team playing with a man short following a first-half red card for Jamie Brandon after the defender had waywardly clattered on-loan German right-back Jeremy Toljan in the face with a flailing arm. At the same time at Ibrox, Rangers were coasting to a 4-0 triumph over Dundee, a team destined for the gallows.
Two points looked like being removed from the champions’ advantage until, a couple of minutes into stoppage-time, Scott Brown pitched an inviting ball into a busy penalty area. Odsonne Edouard, from eight yards, looked the most composed individual in the vicinity as he nonchalantly clipped the ball wide of keeper Bobby Zlamal.
The final whistle sounded only moments later. Relief was evident as the players danced and cavorted in front of the travelling support. No such emotion existed in Govan when the final scoreline was announced. James Forrest had opened the scoring with a textbook breakaway goal before an unnecessary mix-up between Scott Bain and Kristoffer Ajer shortly after the turnaround presented the home side with a penalty-kick and Oliver Bozanic tucked it away.
As you would expect, Neil Lennon was a happy – and mightily relieved – individual afterwards. Answering what it might take to get the Celtic manager’s job on a permanent basis, the forty-seven-year-old former boss and club captain said: “I might have to win everything because of the bar being set so high.” The remark was delivered with a rueful grin.
He added: “It’s different circumstances to when I came in the last time after Tony Mowbray. The club was going through a difficult time as were the players. I was already in the system, so I knew everything. But this time I’m coming in totally different circumstances.
“The team’s going well, the club’s flying and I’m coming in from four-and-a-half years away, so it will take some adjusting to. I will be leaning on John Kennedy’s knowledge.”
Alex, a former Sports Editor at the best-selling Sunday Mail, recalls the inside stories on many of these momentous occasions.
* ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’ celebrates the club’s remarkable fifty-one league championships in their glorious history. To order a copy – and get a FREE book, ‘Seville: The Celtic Movement’ – please go to: ‘CELTIC: 50 Flags Plus One’.
It’s a fabulous double treat for the Celtic support.
Please hurry – the offer is limited to while stocks last and they are going fast.