Neil Lennon has admitted he was “hurt” by the scale of supporter unrest that followed Celtic’s defeat by Ross County on Sunday. The under-pressure manager also conceded the loss, which contributed to a run of two wins in 10 games, could have cost him his job.
Lennon takes Celtic to San Siro, where they have never won, for a Europa League tie against Milan on Thursday. Celtic were eliminated from the competition with two group stage games to play but it was the exit from Scotland’s League Cup that prompted supporters to demonstrate forcefully outside Celtic Park. The club condemned the incident, saying: “For players and a management team, who have given so much in recent years and have delivered 11 consecutive trophies, to require an escort from Celtic Park while being targeted with missiles, is simply unacceptable.”
Speaking before Celtic flew to Italy, Lennon reflected on the protests. “On the scenes on Sunday we were disappointed, we were hurt,” Lennon said. “I understand the frustrations of the supporters because ultimately we are not on a great run at the minute. But it serves no purpose, particularly for the players.
“I am old enough, big enough to take criticism and abuse. Some of it is justified, some of it is over the top. That’s the role of a manager and that’s the responsibility you have to bear. We are all in agreement we must do better and we have to do that with results and performances. It can turn around very quickly, then it’s baby steps after that; build, build, build. So in Milan we are looking for a performance and a result, to start with.”
Celtic’s chief executive, Peter Lawwell, has called for “strength in adversity”. Lennon, pressed on whether he expected to be sacked after the Ross County result, said: “Not in my heart of hearts but I could understand if that had been the case. I am very grateful. They are not a board that sack managers for the sake of it. We have had great success. We are going through a tough time but they don’t leave you out on the lurch.”
Lennon hailed the “durability” of the club. “We are strong,” he said. “They [the board] believe in me and I believe in what I’m trying to do. I know I’m repeating myself but we do believe we will turn this around and quickly.
“For 20 years, from my own point of view, I’ve done everything in my power to bring success for the club and the fans. That’s not going to change on the back of a bad month or people being upset at my style of management or whatever it is.”