The Old Firm Derby win was huge for Neil Lennon. The game in the first half was very even – hectic, frantic, both teams giving the ball away too often. The change in the game came from Lenny and his substitutions.
We live in a world where fans can sometimes be bamboozled and hypnotised by a foreign language, or football terminology that is baffling to most – the ones using it are really intelligent, the rest of us are all mugs.
But the reality of management is very different. Neil might not be the slickest in interviews, he’s a bit more unpredictable than most, but because of that he’s supposed to be just a fighter or scrapper.
That’s a heap of rubbish, there’s far more to him than that – and we saw that at Ibrox.
He sees things others in the game don’t. Who else was calling for James Forrest, the player of the year, to be brought off? But Neil decided he wasn’t being effective, so brings Olivier Ntcham on, who changes the game. That kind of clarity amid the turmoil is what makes Lenny such a great manager. Decision making, along with recruitment, is the biggest thing in football.
Lennon’s decision making was flawless against Rangers.
If you look at the Celtic back four for the last 20 minutes, they were all making their Old Firm debuts. That’s not easy. Forwards can play off the cuff, but in defence you have to work as a unit. So I was surprised at their performance. And, let’s be honest, it’s not the best back four I’ve ever seen – so Rangers will be disappointed.
They didn’t test the keeper. That’ll be a big regret for Rangers, for sure. There’s nothing where they can claim Celtic were lucky, or got away with one, no missed sitters or referee howlers. Steven Gerrard and Gary McAllister will be disappointed by the result, of course, but they’ll be more worried by the performance.
They can do a lot better than that, and they know it.
The team has improved a lot over the last year, but they should’ve been better against Celtic. Going forward, I didn’t see too much. Steven Davis started the game well, popping up in different places, recovering situations and stopping moves, but a lot of Rangers’s attacking players didn’t relish the occasion.
The pressure was thrown onto Rangers by being made favourites, but they didn’t live up to it. This was their chance, and they weren’t great, it’ll be a big disappointment. For now, the club and the players have to go away and deal with this loss. It’s all about growing up as an Old Firm player, handling all the scrutiny that comes.
The Rangers boys have to hang in there until they next play Celtic and have the chance to rectify this result.
All that said, I don’t think there’s a huge chasm between the two teams. Of course there’s still going to be a title race, absolutely.
As long as Rangers understand that results like this can happen. They need to get over the bodyblow. It’s happened many a time, it doesn’t mean the winners necessarily are going to go on and win the title.
You tell the players, even if you lose a goal, you don’t lose your focus. I said the same before my first Old Firm Derby, then Alan Thompson got sent off within 30 minutes – well done, Alan!
In his next match, Thommo got us off the hook, scoring two wonderful goals, and that’s the kind of thing Jordan Jones is going to have to do to make it up to his manager. As Steven said, the boy was playing up to the fans. It’s hard to deal with, if you’re a Rangers player – before the game you’re thinking ‘this is it, we’re favourites, playing at home, Celtic have lost half their defence, this could be the turning point for us as a club’.
Then, of course, when it gets to 2-0, it’s the same all over again, the fans are calling for blood, so he takes someone out.
That wasn’t for the club or his team mates, that wasn’t to move them forward, that was purely for the fans.
It’s something players have to learn. I’ve seen it so many times before with players new to the Old Firm, they think it’s the thing to do to endear themselves to the fans, but it’s probably the worst thing they can do for their club.