Neil Lennon has said he ‘won’t walk away’ as Celtic manager as pressure mounts after Wednesday’s disappointing 2-2 draw at a second-string Livingston. The result leaves Celtic 20 points behind Rangers in the Scottish Premiership standings.
Lennon said the club would have to sack him, insisting he would not quit his job, despite many calling for his resignation following poor results and an ugly episode surrounding Celtic’s mid-season trip to Dubai.
Celtic did battle back from Ciaron Brown’s opener for Livingston with goals from Mohammed Elyounoussi and Nir Bitton. But for the fourth time in 2021, they failed to claim victory, with Jay Emmanuel-Thomas levelling for David Martindale’s impressive Lions – who remain unbeaten in his 10-game tenure.
Celtic finished the game clinging on for a draw after Scott Brown was sent off five minutes after being introduced from the bench.
Lennon said after the match: “I won’t walk away, absolutely not. I’ve put too much into this. Too much of my life. And a month ago we won the treble. We’ve lost two games in the league. Europe wasn’t good enough and we’re out of the League Cup. But we’re human beings and we haven’t played well for whatever reason.
“We can analyse it to death,” he continued. “Maybe no fans has had an adverse effect, I don’t know. But they haven’t reached the levels of last season by any stretch of the imagination. I haven’t changed my procedures, my philosophy hasn’t changed but for some reason too many haven’t reached anywhere near their levels.
“If the club have to make a decision then they have to make a decision. You’re asking the wrong guy about my position. I’m fed up answering it really. Everyone is interested in my job. You keep asking if I’m going to be here. I will be until I’m told otherwise. There have been many [fans who don’t support me] like that since I got the job. But we’ve won five trophies out of six. Not bad.”
The furious manager had let rip on Monday as he claimed his club had been hit with a “barrage of absolute hypocrisy” in the wake of their controversial winter training camp. If it was designed to show his players he was still up for the fight of salvaging their 10-in-a-row dreams, it did not work.
Lennon was back in the dugout after he and 13 players were forced to isolate in the wake of the positive test Christopher Jullien returned following that UAE jaunt, while Vasilis Barkas, Kristoffer Ajer, Ryan Christie, Elyounoussi and Leigh Griffiths were also welcomed back from quarantine.
Martindale obviously had one eye on Sunday’s Betfred Cup semi-final with St Mirren as he made seven changes to the team which got a weekend point at Parkhead. Yet even without a raft of regulars Livi were still able to take the lead after 15 minutes.
Brown headed beyond Vasilis Barkas to open the scoring before Elyounoussi equalised for Celtic, clipping a sublime finish off the underside of the bar with the inside of his foot for his 13th of the season.
Ten minutes later, the champions were ahead. Conor McGregor slid the ball under his feet for Nir Bitton, with the Celtic defender finding the top corner via a slight ricochet off Robby McCrorie’s body. Replays showed Bitton was a fraction offside as he netted his first Hoops goal since December 2016 but Celtic were hoping their miserable luck had changed at last. It would not last.
As snow began to fall on Livingston’s plastic pitch, Emmanuel-Thomas prodded the hosts level on the hour mark before Scott Brown got his marching orders with seven minutes left after being dismissed by referee Willie Collum for aiming a swinging arm at Jaze Kebia.