Exactly one year ago today, just after lunchtime, one of the pivotal moments in Celtic history occurred. Neil Lennon took his Celtic team to Kilmarnock, who had lost their three previous league games, and for 73 minutes looked like surrendering their league title chances just as Tony Mowbray’s team collapsed at St Mirren Park seven months earlier.
The manager later admitted to thoughts of resignation. 3-0 down at half time while already in heavy deficit to Rangers, who were riding a wave of positivity under the reinvigorating ownership of Craig Whyte, events looked to have escaped Neil’s grasp.
It is tempting to write the narrative that a half time talk or tactical change turned things around but turnaround was more difficult to explain. Celtic were awful for the opening 28 minutes of the second half; like condemned men waiting for the inevitable.
Anthony Stokes started the recovery by exploiting Kilmarnock’s weaknesses. A free kick drifted over a wall which didn’t jump and into the net. Had the wall jumped, would history have been different? Three minutes later Stokes fired into the corner of the net from distance, Jaakkola in the Killie goal was not equal to the challenge. Suddenly, we were back in the game, back in the title race.
Charlie Mulgrew, who erred to gift Kilmarnock their third, equalised with 11 minutes remaining, surely there was only one winner now? Not so, images of Heffernan’s last minute header from inside the Celtic six yard box gliding over remain vivid.
We escaped with a draw but it felt like a stay of execution, not a pivotal moment. Neil didn’t resign, he stayed, beat Stade Rennes in the Europa League and never looked back. The imperious positivity which surrounded Craig Whyte was ultimately proven to be a charade, those of us who told you Rangers were in peril were proven correct.
It is impossible to calculate just how much football has changed since Anthony hit that free kick, although imperious positivity still surrounds a charade which is doomed to fail, leaving a lot of football fans out of pocket. If only the football authorities had a warning from recent history that light-touch regulation is dangerous, or had the mechanism to order a financial audit. They do, of course, but despite the traumas of 2012 I doubt they have the appetite to head-off potential problems. It’s easier (in the short term) to hope everything will turn out well.
Not that you need worry about any of this, you can chill and enjoy the season.