Strachan and Brown rumours threaten to ruin focus of revitalised Celtic
With Celtic seemingly capable of putting together an extended run of form for the first time this season -- a win at home to St Mirren this afternoon would take their run to five consecutive victories -- distractions are more than usually unwelcome to Neil Lennon.
Of course, Old Firm managers must deal with the phenomenon almost as routine, but Lennon was irritated by the appearance of reports this week to the effect that Gordon Strachan had come close to returning in a mentoring role and that Scott Brown is being manoeuvred towards the stadium exits.
Apropos the Strachan tale, which had been doing the rounds as speculation for some time, Lennon said: "I was surprised that it came out this week, because it was done and dusted eight or nine weeks ago.
"I don't know where it came from and I don't know why it came out at this time. Then we had the story that we're forcing Scott Brown out, which is complete nonsense.
"I think he would like it resolved. It is a good contract, a lengthy contract and it shows our commitment to him. I think both sides can make it happen, so the sooner it is done the better."
Asked how he would respond if Brown chose to sign a pre-contract deal with another club, as the Celtic captain will be entitled to do in January, Lennon replied: "I would be disappointed, but at the end of the day players have to look after themselves as well at times.
"The last thing I want -- or the club wants -- is for Scott to walk out of the door on freedom of contract. At the minute I am confident, but you just never know in football."
Lennon had revealed earlier in the week that the impasse over Brown's contract had arisen over the fees demanded by his advisers and he returned to the subject again yesterday.
"They can make or break deals and spoil things," he said. "There are a lot of good things that agents do, but sometimes they can get in the way and can influence a transfer one way or the other. We need to have a resolution with his advisers.
"If you look at Scott's playing record, we win more games than not when he is playing. He has been a very influential player in the last year and a half.
"His own bravery and commitment has been detrimental to him with regards to this injury. He kept playing when he probably shouldn't have done, but he is feeling good now and is training."
Brown will probably not be risked today, although he could return to the side for Wednesday's home meeting with Atletico Madrid in the Europa League.
In the meantime, a victory over St Mirren would see Celtic close to within four points of Rangers ahead of the champions' visit to Rugby Park.
Celtic reduced the gap in midweek with a 2-1 win at home to Dunfermline, although the margin would have been considerably greater had Lennon's players taken their abundant chances -- including a penalty-kick missed by Ki Sung-Yeung -- and when Andy Barrowman scored late for the Fifers, unease became palpable amongst the crowd and also seemed to affect the manager, who rounded on a nearby fan at the final whistle.
"I am annoyed with myself," said Lennon. "It is something I shouldn't have done. I was irked by some of the comments towards the players, having played so well. People suffer from amnesia sometimes -- they forget the first 80 or so minutes of the game and only want to concentrate on the last few minutes.
"There was an anxiety that spread throughout the ground which I felt was unnecessary. You have to be deaf not to be aware of it. Sometimes I can understand that, but on Wednesday night I found it uncalled for.
"We played some brilliant football -- the best we have played at home for a while -- and we just hope we can continue it."
Danny Lennon, however, noted that Celtic's split personality made it difficult to anticipate how today's proceedings will unfold.
"They've certainly been a mixed bag at home this season," said the St Mirren manager.
"They failed to score against St Johnstone at home and Hibs at home, but then they take four off Motherwell and five off Dundee United at home. So, you never know what you are really going to get from them, although they are starting to put a string of winning performances together.
"We'll go with a different approach to what earned us a very good point at Ibrox and we'll try to keep that element of surprise for Celtic." (© Daily Telegraph, London)