When Neil Lennon was appointed, this website was highly critical of that decision, and all our fears came to the fore when Cluj knocked us out of the Champions League. The fear was this; Lennon might not be the man to take us forward to where we needed to go.
I’ve never had doubts about his ability to secure the league title.
Those doubts simply never arose.
We are a bigger club than the Ibrox side, we have better players and Lennon’s domestic win ratio is pretty phenomenal.
The man knows how to win games.
But Europe is a different beast, and it’s a different beast from it was when Lennon was last at the club. The whole game has moved on since then, with the biggest clubs moving further and further away from the rest of the game.
When we beat Barcelona they could afford the greatest players in the world … where they are now part of an elite group of clubs that few others can touch. The game is more polarised than ever between the haves and the have nots.
And we all wondered; will it take someone better than Neil to move us forward in this extremely harsh and unforgiving environment?
Some of those questions, at least, were answered last night, but they’ve been in the process of being answered, I think, for a good few weeks now.
Is Lennon a good manager? I think the answer to that is undoubtedly yes.
Has he improved us?
I think the answer to that is yes as well, and this is one of the areas where I had real doubts a few months ago.
Cluj was awful, it really was. But over the two legs we were undoubtedly the better team. We should have beaten them at Parkhead. People hadn’t settled into their roles, Lennon made a bad tactical decision … a lot went wrong that evening which has subsequently been made right.
Just look at the difference in certain players. Bolingoli was excellent. Jullien was absolutely superb.
One of my least favourite of “the Lennon players” – a term that includes footballers at the club and who Brendan never rated – was Jonny Hayes. His goal at Ibrox was a part of his demonstrating that he has a role here.
Last night he made a world class challenge which had me on my feet; not bad for a guy who I’d swear is not and never will be a full-back.
Lennon organises a defence better.
His formation last night wasn’t the one I expected if he was going to play a more defensive role, but the system he used with it was much more conservative and less aggressive. It was more compact, the players pressed well … overall it was just a massive improvement on the defensively weak performances we’ve often seen away from home.
And it fits the pattern of our away games in Europe this season, including the match in Cluj where I thought we really played well and didn’t look in too much trouble. It’s why the home game was especially frustrating.
It was the win in Stockholm though which really pleased me. We combined attacking prowess that night with an easy control of the game. We were absolutely brilliant, and that wasn’t an easy match or an easy tie overall. We just made it look easy.
Some of the press is talking about Rennes not being a good side after the fact; I watched them last season in the league and for a routinely mid-table team they were fantastic. They beat PSG in the cup final last season; they are a quality football team. They are sitting second in the table over there right now with ten points, just two behind PSG. PSG have won four out of five and lost one this season. Rennes were the team who beat them.
To go that ground – where the mighty Parisian’s faltered – and get a draw, and for everyone involved to be disappointed we didn’t win … that’s amazing, and the result reflected the performance. We were never on the ropes. We always looked likely to get something.
What a transformation in this side.
Last night we silenced an awful lot of critics – I hope you were watching, Nicholas, you motor-mouth clown – and those of us who were still a wee bit on the fence on the manager have been given another reason, after Ibrox and Stockholm, to seriously re-evaluate our views.
This was three massive away games in a few weeks … and we’ve done a sterling job in all of them.
One man deserves all the credit.
Neil Francis Lennon, well done on a big, big night.
Keep on proving the cynics wrong. Me included.
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