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Neil Lennon's bizarre decisions led to Celtic defeat, not Brown's big error

Celtic Manager Neil Lennon  is seen  during the UEFA Champions League, third qualifying round, second leg match between Celtic and CFR Cluj at Celtic Park on August 13, 2019 in Glasgow,...

The Celtic manager was highly critical of his players are the UEFA Champions League exit, but he must take his fair share of the blame.

Celtic Manager Neil Lennon  is seen  during the UEFA Champions League, third qualifying round, second leg match between Celtic and CFR Cluj at Celtic Park on August 13, 2019 in Glasgow,...

Celtic's exit from the UEFA Champions League is a hammer blow to their ambitions this season.

A club that sees itself as worthy of it taking its place at the top table of European football, their performance on Tuesday night was another reminder that they are not an accomplished outfit above domestic level.

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Not only will the defeat ensure that there is a lack of glitz and glamour at Celtic Park this season, financially it puts them on the back foot for the second successive season. The riches of the group stages unlock new opportunities when it comes to signing players and making off the pitch improvements.

With a number of players needed in key positions before the end of the current transfer window, it could be a difficult few weeks for their recruitment team, even if they prudently budget for the UEFA Europa League prior to a ball being kicked for the season.

 

So who is to blame?

Structurally there are real problems at the club as well as a frightening lack of ambition. The lack of planning that went into this summer's qualifying process indicates that Celtic are not a club desperate to be an elite outfit. The club's board and chief executive Peter Lawwell must take their fair share of the criticism in that regard. Complacency has taken hold.

On the pitch though Celtic arguably still had enough talent to see off the challenge of Cluj.

One of the big scapegoats of the 5-4 aggregate loss was Scott Brown. His frankly bizarre handball that resulted in a penalty gave the initiative back to the Romanians on the night. Although Celtic took back control in the aftermath, it was a costly moment of madness. Fans were understandably left fuming their their squad leader would let them down at such a critical moment.

Easy to forget though that the Scottish champions conceded three other goals throughout the 90 minutes and if you look at the team's performance from the start, the responsibility for the loss falls at the feet of manager Neil Lennon.

Kristoffer Ajer of Celtic reacts at full time during the UEFA Champions League, third qualifying round, second leg match between Celtic and CFR Cluj at Celtic Park on August 13, 2019 in...

His idea to start Callum McGregor at left-back instead of in midfield will go down in Hoops folklore as a terrible decision.

Strangely, Lennon argued after the game (The Daily Record) that it was a decision that did not negatively impact the game for Celtic. Did he not see his number one midfielder beaten to a header at left-back for Cluj's opening goal?

Lennon also decided to severely criticise his players after the match, declaring there was 'no tempo' to his side's performance (The Guardian). Considering it's McGregor, when playing in midfield, who sets the tempo for the vast majority of Celtic matches then that's no surprise. Again, it could be argued that's on Lennon.

As for leaving new signings Christopher Jullien and Boli Bolingoli on the bench? The manager may have his reasons for that based on what he's seen on the training ground, but it's hardly a ringing endorsement of his recruitment this summer.

With his late substitutions when chasing the game giving up the midfield battle and ultimately conceding the match to the Romanians, it's fair to say that Lennon and his backroom staff did not have a great night in the dugout.

The Hoops boss must take personal responsibility for all of that before publicly deriding his first-team.

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