Lennon’s first Old Firm game was the 2001 league cup semi-final, in the midst of Martin O’Neill’s treble winning season. Celtic won a towsy match 3-1, but the game was overshadowed by a fight which erupted after Claudio Reyna tried to break Bobby Petta’s legs. The outcome of all this was three red cards – and Lennon was in the thick of it, having a ‘dispute’ with the similarly short tempered Barry Ferguson. Sadly this was to be a rare triumph for Lennon the player against Rangers at Hampden.
The following year Celtic faced Rangers twice at Hampden and both games ended in bitter disappointment. In a rematch of the previous year’s league cup semi-final, Celtic conspired to miss a load of great chances before losing 2-1 to Rangers after extra time. That year’s Scottish Cup final was even more disappointing, as Celtic twice squandered the lead before losing 3-2 to a late Peter Lovenkrands goal. The next season was to get even more disappointing for Lennon.
The 2002-03 season will go down as one of Celtic’s most memorable, despite the fact we didn’t win anything, but the UEFA Cup campaign will live long in the memory. Sadly, the 2003 league cup final was not one of Celtic – or Lennon’s happiest occasions. 2-0 down at half-time, the team came roaring back in the second half, Henrik Larsson pulling a goal back and then John Hartson having a goal disallowed despite being yards onside. Thank you SFA. But things went from bad to worse for Lennon when he was sent-off for two bookable offenses. Even then, there was still time for Celtic to equalise…but John Hartson missed a last minute penalty. However Lennon would get his revenge the next team he was up against Rangers at Hampden.
The 2008-09 season is not looked on with any great fondness, and it’s not hard to see why. Gordon Strachan’s team blew a seven point lead and failed to score in the last two league games of the season to hand Rangers the title. However, the 2009 league cup final was a rare high point. With Neil Lennon on board as first team coach, he watched on as Celtic won their first cup final against Rangers in 20 years 2-0, with goals after extra time coming from the Irish pair of Darren O’Dea and Aiden McGeady. The next time Lennon faced Rangers at Hampden he would be in a far more important role.
Neil Lennon did very well in his first full season as Celtic manager, but there were some very poor results. Obviously the defeat at Inverness being the worst, but the 2-1 league cup final defeat would be close behind. Just a month after dominating Rangers in the league at Parkhead, Celtic didn’t turn up on the day and deservedly lost. It also didn’t help that Lennon was stuck in the stand as he was sitting a touchline ban.
Neil Lennon will probably be a bit peeved at his record against Rangers, but who knows – perhaps one day he will face them again at Hampden and set things right.