Celtic 0 Ross County 2
Ross County have piled more pressure on Neil Lennon by knocking Celtic out of the Betfred Cup.
Ross Stewart’s 39th-minute penalty and Alex Iacovitti’s late header earned County a 2-0 second-round win to ensure Celtic’s run of domestic success will finish this season.
Celtic can make it 12 consecutive trophies if they beat Hearts next month in last season’s delayed Scottish Cup final but their 35-match winning run in domestic cups ended with an uninspiring display at Celtic Park.
It was a first cup defeat since Ronny Deila’s side lost to Mark Warburton’s Rangers in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup in April 2016.
Lennon believes he should get more time to turn Celtic’s form around as the defeat sparked angry protests outside Parkhead.
Fans chanted for Lennon’s exit as a police helicopter circled overhead and more than a dozen police vans lined up outside the main stand.
A 2-0 second-round loss ended a 35-game winning run for Celtic in domestic cups and heightened the panic among a growing element of the Hoops support that their quest for 10 in a row is doomed unless there is a change of manager.
Celtic can win a 12th consecutive domestic trophy when they take on Hearts in last season’s delayed Scottish Cup final on December 20 but a run of two wins in 10 matches has put Lennon under severe pressure.
The Hoops boss showed no sign of quitting after the defeat and, when asked if he would understand if the Celtic board took the decision to remove him, Lennon said: “No, I think it’s too soon for that. We have lost one trophy, that’s gone. Our priority is the league, it always is, every time we come into a season.
“We are out of Europe, so it’s not been great, but there’s plenty of time to turn it around. But it’s alright me saying that, we have to show it with action now.
“I think I should get more time at it but, if not, then so be it.”
Albian Ajeti and substitute Mohamed Elyounoussi missed great chances after Ross Stewart’s 39th-minute penalty.
But Celtic looked a team largely lacking in ideas and confidence and their hopes were extinguished when Alex Iacovitti headed home following an 84th-minute corner.
Lennon walked into his post-match media conference amid clearly audible chants of “Lennon, Lennon, get to f***” from outside and said: “It doesn’t make me feel good obviously. We are not in a good moment.
“The game is a small microcosm of the run we are on: penalty and set-play. We have given the opposition free hits.
“We dominated the game and lacked a bit of quality in the final third.”
When asked what would he would say to the supporters outside, Lennon said: “What can I say? That’s their opinion. It’s been rumbling for a while.
“It doesn’t matter what I say or what sort of bravado I put on. It won’t wash. I have to turn it around with results. I can only do that with the players.
“We had a really good meeting on Saturday. It was powerful and a lot of good stuff came out of it.
“There was a good ambience and atmosphere coming into the game but we just aren’t making it happen at the moment.
“Do I see myself as the man to lead the team? Of course. I believe in myself.
“I am not always going to harp on about what I have done in the past.
“We are in the present and I know the expectations from the supporters and the board for the club.
“I am falling short of that at the minute, me and my backroom team.
“It’s OK saying we are going to turn a corner. There is no point talking about it – we need to do it with our actions and soon. Otherwise the landscape could change for me very quickly.
“I hope I’m here to turn things around because that’s what I want to do as quickly as possible. But obviously the results don’t help those chances.”
County have not won in seven Scottish Premiership games and lost 3-1 to a Kilmarnock team playing with 10 men for 82 minutes on their last outing.
So manager Stuart Kettlewell got more than he could possibly have expected after demanding improvement.
“The bigger picture for me is the level of performance,” he said.
“It’s a massive result for our football club but I was exceptionally critical off the back of last weekend so in simple terms I was looking for a reaction and I got that in spade loads.
“We know the run Celtic have been on, we know how good they have been in cup competitions, domestically they have been sensational over the last number of years, so it was a mammoth task for us.
“But our club has a decent history in the last decade or so of causing an upset and that ranks right up there with the best of them.”