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The Glittering prize
The first silverware of the season is up for grabs on Sunday – along with the glorious prospect of a Treble for Celtic Manager Neil Lennon in only his second full season in charge of the club. This has truly been a momentous season already for Celtic and its supporters but now we’re getting down to the important business of turning results and performances into trophies.
Kilmarnock stand between us and success on Sunday. Under Kenny Shiels, one of the more impressive and engaging managers in Scottish football, they’ve had a good season which has included beating Rangers twice home and away (admittedly not quite the feat it once was!). At times the quality of football played by the Ayrshire outfit has caught the eye and they’ve proven a match for Celtic on the two occasions the teams have met – Celtic with a narrow 2-1 home win in December and a draw at Rugby Park on 15th October.
That date is one which the Celtic manager will have etched in his heart, which sunk like ours did when the team conceded a third goal on the 45th minute to go into the half-time break 3-0 down. Neil Lennon and his players were already under immense pressure after a poor start to the season had seen Rangers open up a double-digit lead at the top of the league. Losing three goals without reply in the first-half at Kilmarnock was proving worryingly reminiscent of the collapse away to St Mirren which ended Tony Mowbray’s reign as Celtic manager.
It wasn’t to be for Neil Lennon – or his players. Two Anthony Stokes goals and a third from increasingly influential Charlie Mulgrew saw Celtic escape with their dignity and a point. The manager and team had taken it to the brink and faced their fears. They haven’t lost a game since. Now we sit 21 points clear at the top of the league with visits to Hampden lined up on Sunday and again in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup. It is one of the most dramatic turn-arounds in our club’s illustrious history.
To ensure their place in history the team now need to go on and secure the silverware. The unbeaten run must come to an end at some point. There is genuine pressure on the players and managers again, pressure of a different kind admittedly, but they must respond in the way that has become virtually habit-forming since October: by focusing on the game immediately in front of them and challenging their opponents in every area of the field for the full 90 minutes. The team demonstrated against Dundee United last Sunday that their appetite for success is undiminished as is their taste for the battle. They need to bring their form and their undefeated record to the first showpiece final of the season and take the game to Kenny Shiels’ men. Confidence has been well-earned but needs to translate into determination and the will to win which Celtic teams have shown so many times in the Hampden arena down the decades.
The support must play our part also. Memories are fresh of the wonderful day out at the national stadium against Dundee United last May when Neil Lennon won his first trophy as Celtic manager. The support were in tremendous voice throughout the game and Sunday provides an opportunity to bring Hampden alive again with the colour and volume which have seen Celtic Park rocking so many times this season.
Success on Sunday against Kilmarnock will mean the Manager has come full circle from that point when he entered that dressing room at half-time on 15th October and faced down a team who were beaten in every sense. He turned it around, they turned it around. Another unbeaten performance and the glittering prize comes ever closer for him, them and us. We are blessed to live in such interesting times.
Over and Over and Out – TheShamrock