Celtic boss is in ‘big trouble’
Chris Sutton last night branded Celtic boss Neil Lennon ‘delusional’ before admitting that the pressure is mounting on his old teammate.
The Hoops suffered a crushing defeat to Sparta Prague in the Europa Legaue, which sent the Glasgow outfit tumbling out the competition.
A Green Brigade protest called for Lennon to be sacked this week and after images appeared of the banner outside Parkhead, Sutton hit out at the fan group.
But following last night’s display, the Hoops hero believes his former teammate is in trouble.
“This is a Sparta team who have lost four out of the last five games, this is a team Celtic should be beating.
“They have been humiliated over two legs. 8-2 was the score over two games.
“Neil Lennon now is under severe pressure. This is a team who have conceded 21 goals in the last nine games. They haven’t stepped up in the big games.
“They look disjointed, disorganised and, he’s my mate, but he’s in big trouble. I can’t defend that – it was a hopeless, hopeless performance.
“I know that the board have backed him, but they have a decision to make. The last time a (Celtic) manager was on this bad a run was Tony Mowbray. Ronny Deila failed in Europe too.
“This time last year Celtic beat Lazio and they qualified after four games. They’ve regressed and he’s in trouble.
“I’m not sure it solves the problems if he does go. It’s a huge decision for the board to make. He’s won nine major trophies as Celtic manager. Do they trust him?
“I don’t know what’s been going on behind the scenes. Whether Peter Lawwell has seen enough with what’s going on in the training ground to trust him.
“The fact of the matter is the results have not been good enough and it’s been all season. It’s been on Neil Lennon’s watch.
“You can’t get knocked out the Europa League after four games. It happened to Ronny Deila and I don’t know where Neil goes from here.
“He needs a reaction. But I watched his whole interview (after the match) and some of the stuff he was saying, in my opinion, was delusional – and he’s my mate!
“He got a lot wrong about tonight. I can’t stick up for him on the evidence of what we’ve seen this season.”
Benfica fight back to square the score at Ibrox
EUROPA LEAGUE – GROUP D
Steven Gerrard’s side are still on course to reach the last 32.
By Thomas Duncan, BBC Scotland
Benfica stunned Rangers with a second late comeback in three weeks to earn a draw at Ibrox and stall their hosts’ Europa League knockout hopes.
Strikes from Scott Arfield and Kemar Roofe in either half had Rangers cruising and on top of Group D, but an own goal from James Tavernier and a composed finish from Pizzi hauled Benfica level in the final 12 minutes.
However, Steven Gerrard’s side are still on course to reach the last 32 for consecutive years as they sit level with the Portuguese on eight points.
Rangers are top on head-to-head record – having scored three goals in Lisbon – and have a home match against Standard Liege and a trip to Poland to face Lech Poznan still to come.
But Gerrard will be disappointed not to have already secured a knockout place, having also let slip a 3-1 advantage against 10-man Benfica in their last group stage match.
Rangers have resembled a well-oiled machine throughout this season. Twenty-one games unbeaten. One goal conceded in 10 home games. Two shots on target faced in three previous group matches. That was their form prior to this one. They have been relentless.
Their only blip was the final 20 minutes in Lisbon, where they ceded a handsome advantage to Benfica, and pre-match Gerrard was asked what he had learned from that encounter. His reply was simple: at this level, you can’t afford to lose your shape or concentration. His players did not heed his warning.
For 75 minutes, this looked like being a routine win, with the magnificently honed 4-3-3 system ensuring Rangers looked incredibly solid, while retaining a threat.
Even when without the ball for large spells, blue shirts shifted across the Ibrox pitch in synchronicity, with Benfica unable to register a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. Everton should have found the net after a clever cut back in the box, though, and Rafa Silva was denied by a lunging Leon Balogun.
By then, Rangers had already struck with all the usual hallmarks of their attacking play. Alfredo Morelos, pictured left, dropped deep, Borna Barisic whipped in a terrific delivery, Roofe forced a stunning save, Tavernier headed against the bar after some aggressive positioning, and Arfield arrived perfectly to lash in.
The start of the second-half continued to form, and Rangers’ plan. They kept their shape, frustrated their opponents, and struck in ruthless fashion when given a sniff.
Roofe’s goal – which arrived shortly after the forward shouted for a penalty for handball- was brilliantly worked, as Barisic and Glen Kamara combined down the left, with the former drifting inside to pick up a back-heel return. Ryan Kent’s clever leave then allowed Roofe to drive at Benfica’s defence and lash high into the net from 20 yards. Ruthless again.
But a side of Benfica’s quality – even while shorn of key players due to Covid-19 – always retain a threat. Tavernier was unlucky to bundle Goncalo Ramos’ shot into his own net, but it was his poor clearing header which allowed the ball to eventually fall to the Benfica attacker.
Morelos almost restored Rangers’ two-goal lead as his shot was pushed on to the crossbar, but some neat interchange from the Portuguese side allowed Pizzi to stroke the ball high into the net and clinch a point.
Two draws against Benfica is hardly a disaster for Rangers. If they beat Standard at Ibrox next week, a last-32 spot is theirs, and they are still unbeaten in 22 matches.
But throwing away three points once again will be a source of frustration, especially as a win would have sealed a knockout place.
Summing up: There was little on show at Ibrox that we didn’t know already. Rangers are a brilliantly-coached team who know their shape and strategy perfectly, and for large spells looked comfortable, with Roofe a growing star with injuries hopefully behind him.
However, both games against a technically gifted Benfica side with plenty of European experience showed there is still some fine tuning to be done with this team. An occasional reminder of their mortality without damaging consequences for their campaign could be no bad thing.