Wednesday 21 February 2018

Time to shape up or ship out, Commons tells Celtic 'lost souls'

Celtic manager Neil Lennon
Celtic manager Neil Lennon

Roddy Forsyth

The black humour production line was rolling even as the final whistle sounded on Celtic's Champions League campaign this week. "Catalans 6 Matalans 1," read one online post, followed swiftly by another that said: "Barca fans shout "Neymar!' -- Celtic fans shout 'Nae Mair!'"

It will scarcely comfort Neil Lennon & Co to know that they are not the only ones to have been trashed by Barcelona this season -- they are not even the worst-case victims. Real Betis, Granada, Real Sociedad, Valladolid, Rayo Vallecano and Ajax have all conceded four goals to Barça, and Levante stumbled out of the Nou Camp after a 7-0 battering.

It is also possible to apply a little balm to Celtic's discomfort after the events in Catalonia -- the first time they have conceded six goals in a game since April 14, 1965, when they lost 6-2 at Falkirk -- by pointing out that prior to their latest visit to the Nou Camp, they had gone head-to-head with Barça over four and a half hours of football which produced an aggregate loss of 4-3, but which included the epic victory in November last year.

By those measures, Celtic surpassed themselves -- as well as the significant majority of Barcelona's opponents -- with performances from which the Hoops and their fans can draw pride, especially since Barça in their pomp are close to unstoppable. Georgios Samaras even has the unlikely distinction of scoring in Celtic's last two appearances in Catalonia.

And, as has been mentioned here, Celtic's schedule of 24 Champions League games in 17 months was a marathon. Against that background, a slump in the home stretch with the prize already gone is not a calamity.

Nevertheless, it clearly stung Lennon, who described the performance of most of his players as being "weak" and featuring "no bravery on the ball." He was echoed plaintively by Kris Commons, who spent most of the game on the bench, but who at least took the game to Barça when he came on with 20 minutes left to play.

"When they made it 3-0 before half-time there were a lot of lost souls out there," said Commons. "In the last two performances in the SPFL we have been incredible.

"We've scored 12 goals and conceded none, but the Barcelona game sums up the European campaign. We just haven't performed in the Champions League like we have in the SPFL.

"Is the gap between domestic and European football too big to bridge? I don't think we are a million miles away. AC Milan away was a missed opportunity. Getting a result there would probably have kick-started the campaign, but instead it has been a snowball effect where we have either done well and lost, or played really badly and got a heavy defeat.

"And until we bring in quality players to take us to that level, we are always going to be playing catch-up. It's time for people to either stand up and be counted -- or we go and get some better players in.


"We've spent money, but we seem to be getting between £5m to £12m for players leaving -- and spending £2m or £3m for others. From a business point of view, that's pretty good, but if you sell quality you have to bring in quality. It's a process of change for us."

Lennon and his directors have been commendably level-headed about the prospects of competing with Europe's elite on a foundation of extremely limited domestic revenue. However, the familiar dilemma is back.

Expectations may exceed delivery, but ambition is the life-blood of a club of status and it has to be kept pumping, especially at Parkhead, where interest in the uncompetitive domestic league becomes anaemic without the adrenalin of European competition.

Celtic dressed for a party and came home the worse for wear. But as revellers know, there's nothing to clear the head like the January sales. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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