Lennon bewildered as Celtic title hopes are butchered by Thistle
Published 05/05/2011 | 05:00
Keep the champagne corked and break out the punning headlines. Not for the first time in their much less exalted history, Inverness Caledonian Thistle proved capable of dealing mighty Celtic a stunning blow -- this time one that may cost them their chance of a first Scottish title under Neil Lennon.
The Celtic manager castigated his defence after his side's shock defeat left Old Firm rivals Rangers in pole position in the race for the SPL title. "I might have to change the back four after that performance, I will assess it on Thursday and Friday," Lennon said.
"Some players picked today of all days to have their poorest game of the season. The two full-backs were poor. The two centre-halves were poor and the two centre-forwards were eachy-peachy (both as bad as each other).
"You can't have that many off form and get a result and we didn't need to win the game."
It was an extraordinary display by Terry Butcher's men and all the more so because 10 of his squad have already been told that their services will not be required after the end of the season.
Butcher, though, had sufficient faith in their professionalism to put two of the departing players -- former captain Grant Munro and Chris Innes -- together in the heart of his defence and install Stuart Golabek, Russell Duncan, Eric Odhiambo and Danni Sanchez on the bench.
In addition, two of his loan players -- Dubliner Aaron Doran and Alex MacDonald -- were also in the equation, Doran from the start.
The manager's faith was repaid when Adam Rooney was instrumental in putting his side ahead and, although Kris Commons was to score twice for Celtic, Munro and Shane Sutherland scored second-half goals that shifted the championship momentum from Parkhead to Ibrox.
The most painful aspect of the evening for Celtic is not that they lost, but that, had Caley Thistle taken all of their clear chances, they could have scored five or six.
Rangers now have the destiny of the title in their own hands and if they win their three remaining games they will earn a third successive title under Walter Smith.
Lennon admitted the pendulum has swung towards Ibrox but is hoping one of Rangers' opponents can do Celtic a favour in the remaining three games.
"The title is in Rangers' hands," said the Northern Irishman. "They are a point ahead and we have to win all our games and take it to the last game of the season and see what happens."
Last night Rooney was instrumental in putting Caley Thistle ahead, with almost their first attack. The move began on their right and found Sutherland just inside the Celtic box where his swivelling cutback was met by Rooney with a flick that diverted off Charlie Mulgrew and over the line.
Scarcely had play restarted than Caley made the dangerous error of allowing Commons to stride forward unchecked from midfield and he took advantage of the space to uncork a left-foot drive which swept past Ryan Esson for 1-1.
What had become evident, even at this infant stage of the contest, was that Celtic were strangely subdued and Caley Thistle displayed no such inhibitions.
Moreover, although both sides were undermined by erratic passing, particularly in midfield, the Highlanders repeatedly looked threatening on forward forays.
Nobody, however, could have anticipated the manner of their next goal, which stemmed from a corner eight minutes after the break. Celtic, with the best defensive record in the league, could not clear their lines and the ball fell to Munro in space on the far side of the box. The defender coolly tamed it and struck a perfectly placed drive to the net.
Before the game had reached the three-quarter mark the Celtic goalkeeper had to reach into his net once more, this time when more bad marking allowed Sutherland to direct a half-volley on the bounce away from the goalkeeper.
Celtic were bound to respond with vigour but they had next to nothing to show for their efforts until Ross Tokely toppled Shaun Maloney in the box two minutes into injury-time. Commons' finish from the spot was immaculate and Celtic frantically claimed a second penalty when Paddy McCourt tumbled in a collision with Munro, but their pleas were waved away. (© Daily Telegraph, London)