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Robbie Keane

Sachin Tendulkar – still one short <em>Picture: arunramu</em>

Sachin Tendulkar – still one short Picture: arunramu

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
The first day of the weekend, traditionally our biggest sporting day, often provides a bit of a mixed bag.

South Africa these days is a unified nation, which on a sporting stage has hosted cricket, rugby and football world cups. With memories of those events, it’s difficult to think that South Africa were, rightly, sporting pariahs at one time, banned from international sport because of their policy on segregation and apartheid.

It would have been something of a history lesson for many watching the news at the weekend to hear of the death of Basil D’Oliveira.

People talked of his Test record and his performances for Worcestershire. I best recall him for the latter, in his mid-40s, with a torn hamstring, batting with a runner in the Benson & Hedges final at Lord’s against Kent.

But all the runs, all the wickets and catches he amassed over the years would never square with his greatest achievement. For D’Oliveira unwittingly began apartheid’s demise in 1968.

While the world debated exactly what to do with South Africa, the Test and County Cricket Board selected D’Oliveira for England’s tour there. Actually, they didn’t initially.

They, for want of a better description, “bottled”. Knowing what his inclusion, as a Cape Coloured, would mean, they omitted him from their original selection, only bringing him in after injury ruled out Tom Cartwright.

The South Africans said no. England didn’t tour, although there was plenty of pressure on them from those who believed politics had no place in sport.

But England didn’t go, the world took notice, and South Africa were ostracised, becoming sporting outcasts thereafter – except when the likes of the British Lions went there in 1974 and again in 1980. But that’s another very different story…

He didn’t quite read or broadcast such stories, but sports fans – and even those who hated sport – would hang on every word uttered by Tim Gudgin.

His voice is one I’ve recognised since I first got into sport. The man who once read the racing and rugby results has, since the death of Len Martin, “decided” whose Littlewoods or fixed-odds coupons would be successful.

But Saturday saw him retire from making – and breaking – many a dream, aged just 83! Another victim of the Beeb’s switch to Salford, perhaps?

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, “Captain America” was being acknowledged for winning his 100th cap.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra’s achievement was marked by Rangers, who presented him with a silver salver. A nice gesture, even if his cap count on arriving in Scotland stood at 91.

At that rate, maybe a special medal should be stamped for ex-Gers skipper Gavin Rae…

Sunday
First mention in despatches goes to Tom Hall, editor of the Scottish Football Blog, for his “fitbablether” Blogathon which saw 24 hours, 24 posts, 16,665 words crafted and so far over £840 raised for Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup.

Let’s do it all again soon. Like tomorrow?

Perhaps not the quantity of memorable sport on the box this weekend, although that’s not strictly true. For Power Snooker, ITV4’s major sporting contribution to weekend viewing will live long in the memory.

When it comes to snooker, I am a bit of a traditionalist. I know, there are those who say snooker can be dull, boring, uninteresting. And that’s true. But that’s why Match of the Day has a final match of the day every Saturday night.

Even the best league in the world (allegedly, which is why Messi and Ronaldo play in Spain if you haven’t noticed) has the odd dud game.

When people talk about atmosphere and excitement at snooker, they might refer to the bear pit that was Goffs, once home to the Irish Masters, or to the drama of a Wembley Masters final of which there have been many over the years, or to a late-night Crucible semi-final.

No one, to my knowledge, has ever commented on the atmosphere generated by one of snooker’s bastard children, such as Power Snooker or 6 Reds (snooker’s equivalent of the Morris Ital), unless they were being paid handsomely to comment – or commentate – on proceedings, their every word over the weekend whipping me up in to a frenzy of apathy and boredom.

Power Snooker, had everything. Maybe that was it’s biggest failing.

But if you can imagine the best snooker players in the world, a commentary team ODing on caffine-boosted energy drinks and a snooker table, fused, reheated and mixed with elements of Pot Black, Countdown, Loose Women, karaoke night at your local Miners’ Welfare just before last orders, some Asbo-dodgers, and a set of rules which even had those officiating glancing at each other as if they’d been set either a Krypton Factor task or a paper on the causes of the National Socialism in Germany during the 1920s, then you have Power Snooker.

As you can tell, I’m undecided.

I thought I might have been alone. Until I saw what John Higgins, the reigning world champion (and sounding a tad like Olympic great Sir Steve Redgrave), had to say about the thing.

“If you ever see me anywhere near Power Snooker again you have my permission to shoot me,” said Higgins.

For the moment, I’ll also put him among the undecided…

Monday
David Beckham basks in the glory of helping LA Galaxy to a 1–0 win over Houston Dynamo in the MLS Cup final. He will now decide on where his future may be, possibly with PSG, and in playing for Team GB in the Olympics.

Beckham’s team-mate Robbie Keane said winning the MLS Cup caps a fantastic week for him, after securing qualification for Euro 2012 with Ireland.

Keane meanwhile won’t be seeking a loan move between MLS seasons, so no short-term switch back to the club in Scotland he always wanted to play for.

Which will come as a huge disappointment to many supporters of that great club. But I’m sure Gers fans will get over it.

Tuesday
World Cup winning coach Graham Henry rules out seeking any post with England in the wake of their recent management cull.

It’s worth watching this interview with the All Blacks coach, if just to hear one of the shortest answers on record to one of the longest questions ever broadcast.

Henry lays out at length what he wants to do in the future, and the reasons why an England role doesn’t appeal to him, one being that he wanted to spend time with his grandchildren.

So he likes kids – although not all of those selected by England for the World Cup…

Wednesday
In English football you have the haves and the have nots. There is also a third category of those who have so much, they don’t really know what they have and have not. Manchester City and Chelsea fall into this category.

The latter now see their chances of qualification to the knockout stages of the Champions League dependent upon not losing to Valencia in the final group game after a last-minute loss to Bayer Leverkusen.

City, meantime, are in an equally perilous state going into their final tie, having lost 2–1 to Napoli – whose president, Antonio de Laurentiis, couldn’t miss the opportunity to put the boot in a bit more.

“I think Sheikh Mansour just wanted a toy when he bought Manchester City,” De Laurentiis said. “If they don’t win something quickly, he could just go somewhere else and buy another toy.” Ouch!

Talking of buying things, City’s loss wasn’t lost on some who might use a well-known credit card for certain purchases.

Man City’s loss in 2010/11: £194.9m.

Man City’s salary budget: £174m.

Owner’s outlay: £1 billion.

Losing to Napoli: Priceless.

Thursday
Miracles do happen. American Samoa – officially ranked the worst international football team in the world – won a game for the first time in their history when they defeated Tonga 2–1.

The US protectorate had of course made the headlines a decade ago when they nearly became the Bon Accord of the international game, losing 31–0 to Australia.

“This victory would now be part of soccer history,” said coach Thomas Rongen. “Maybe we have a chance to do something special here beyond this one game. But let’s enjoy this one right now.”

Yes, let’s. Silver salver all round, I say…

Friday
There are sports fans, and then there are sports presenters. Then there are sports fans who present. And in that last category you’ll find STV’s Raman Bhardwaj.

At 4:47am this morning he tweeted: “Sachin Tendulkar misses out on getting his 100th 100. Out for 94. Gutted. :-(“. Such dedication.

Within a minute, however, 4:48 according to the Twitter clock, another cricket-loving nutter had replied saying that “he [Tendulkar] could learn a thing or several from Geoffrey Boycott…”.

I was of course referring to the Sir Geoffrey’s hundredth first-class hundred at Headingley in 1977…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Shaq O'Neal – a Neil Lennon target? <em>Picture: Keith Allison</em>

Shaq O'Neal – a Neil Lennon target? Picture: Keith Allison

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Were we not all subjected to horror stories as kids (and maybe even in later life) of what would happen to us if we misbehaved?

How we wouldn’t get anything from Santa, or the Tooth Fairy, nor would we get to play with our friends, go on holiday or taste our favourite sweeties ever again.

And worst of all (although there was always a bit of me fancied finding out, just to see what it would really be like) being handed over or taken away from your loved ones by some shady spectre who preyed on boisterous weans who wouldn’t take a telling.

So just imagine how naughty, undisciplined and downright bad some kids must have been lately, to have been made a spectacle of in from of millions on TV.

Ahead of the Champions League final at Wembley we had the introduction of the teams, when kids – boys and girls, adorned in the colours of Manchester United (an away kit of necessity, not greed) and Barcelona – got involved in the now ritual parade of peace and friendship in football. Weans kitted out like Messi, Villa and Pedro, taking the hands of Rooney, Giggs, Ferdinand and co.

What a highlight for these youngsters, and a nice touch, if all rather cluttered.

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But for every few of the lucky ones, there were those kids who had obviously just missed going to “the bad fire”. No walk-on parts with them, taking the hand of a football legend. No, for them it was much worse.

What have they done? Taken a marker pen to grandma’s only surviving wedding photo? Or buried the only set of keys for dad’s car in the toy box, or in the garden, or in the dog? Or told the playgroup or nursery of their mother’s hair removal techniques?

One can only speculate. But there is no doubt these brats have been bad, if not downright evil.

Just image having to be led on to the Wembley pitch, not by an instantly recognised footballer, but by a referee, or a referee’s assistant, or – worst of all – by a fourth, fifth or sixth official. It’s the UEFA equivalent of missing out on meeting Santa, but getting to meet one of his helpers. Wow!

And if you can’t imagine the trauma or ridicule some of those kids will have faced over the last week, try walking in to work on Monday morning and asking “Does anyone want to see this photo of me in the pub with a Grade One referee?”

Poor kids…

As for the game itself, what a masterclass from Barcelona. The best team ever? Who knows. Trying to compare Barça with, say, the famous Real Madrid team of the late 50s and 60s is a waste of time.

Remember, those who witnessed and understood what Puskas, Di Stefano and Gento were all about would now be of pensionable age and their memory might not be what it once was. Sir Alex Ferguson could pass comment, but then that would have to be tempered by the fact he forgot to put Dimitar Berbatov on the bus.

Of course, there will be those who will point to the fitness levels and tactics of the modern game being far superior, and maybe so. But 50 years ago all there was to play in were modified pit boots, and some of those were worn by men who could happily kick you into submission.

What was without question was how far Barcelona were ahead of United. However, while the Catalans may be the best team in Europe, they don’t have the benefit of playing in the best league in the world. How many times did you hear that on TV or radio on Saturday night as those with acute tunnel vision desperately sought some solace, even from their own misguided beliefs.

Like the clown on Radio 5 Live 606 phone-in who reckoned Barcelona would struggle in England because they would need to play the likes of Wolves. Yes, I can see why humans may toil when faced with a pack of rabid, starving wolves. But those that just missed relegation on goal difference? I think not.

No, United were just a distant second, and made to look as much. Rooney and Park tried hardest, while Fergie’s defenders got plenty of honourable mentions for being so busy. But others were conspicuous by their absence.

They should have had Anon on the front of their shirts, instead of AON, and at least one looked as if the gagging and non-reporting injunction was firmly back in place just for those 90 minutes.

Still, there is always next year.

Sunday
After the Lord Mayor’s Show and all that. And there was plenty of it – although, as Mr Spock might have said, “It’s football, captain, but not as we know it.”

For starters, we had the Cuairt dheireannach Cupa Emirates, or Emirates Junior Cup Final, live from that hotbed of the Gaelic: Rugby Park, Kilmarnock. This assumption is of course based on the fact that having watched The Scheme and only ever understood every fourth word they say, English is not the local language in those parts.

Auchinleck Talbot beat Musselburgh Athletic 2–1 after extra-time, in front of just over 6,000 mad-keen supporters. With attendances like that, they could book the Aviva Stadium for next year.

Victory doesn’t qualify you for Europe (unless the sponsors throw in some cheap flights), but does get you one of the most ornate and decorative prizes in Scottish sport, a trophy I first came into contact with as far back as 1970 when Blantyre Vics won it.

Not that I knew anything of Blantyre Vics. But one day my dad arrived home in a work’s Mini van and whisked me away to have a look at this impressive trophy as it took pride of place on the middle of a six-foot snooker table that had seen better days. I would not have been any more impressed as a ten-year-old had it been the World Cup. But enough nostalgia.

Fair play to BBC Alba for covering the final live, a game that was once almost religiously broadcast by STV until they concentrated only on the Champions League. While the ITV network had shown the nation (unless you were on Sky) Lionel Messi at his very best the previous evening, the Scottish Junior Cup Final had a few protagonists who were twice the player Messi was, if only because they appeared at least twice the size…

Moving on – and just a word for Darren Ferguson leading Peterborough to promotion and becoming the most successful manager in that footballing family for that weekend at least – and we arrived at the Carling Nations Cup Final, and slightly busy Aviva Stadium in Dublin for Republic of Ireland against Scotland.

The hosts wore black with green flashes, whilst – in keeping with the trend of trying desperately not to be identified as Scotland – their opponents wore gold, yellow, or custard depending on what corresponding shade you fancied from the Dulux paint chart.

Robbie Keane beat Allan McGregor, for once, to claim and Irish victory and the spoils that were on offer, namely that Carling Nations Cup trophy.

Not your traditional cup or pot in the style of the Scottish Junior Cup or European Cup, but, well, something different.

Was it a work in silver and steel to mirror that Aviva backdrop, or did it symbolise and contours and contortions of a goal net as the ball is smashed high in to the rigging? Or did you see the resemblances between it and a hooded cobra? Yes, I can see all of those.

Or was it a cheese grater, probably purchased by the FAI using the GAA Dunelm Mill storecard (see last week’s offering for details)?

Talking of iconic awards, the Indy 500 trophy takes a bit of beating, as do cars and drivers in what can be a brutal and cruel race. Just ask JR Hildebrand.

If you haven’t seen it, watch this.

Such was his momentum into that final wall, I mean corner, that he still managed to cross the line even on two wheels and in half a car. Unfortunately, England’s Dan Wheldon overtook the wreckage to take his second Indy victory.

If only the Californian rookie had entered the Indy 499 and a half, he’d be celebrating today.

Still, sponsors National Guard gained some great exposure.

And coincidentally, they got the same again in NASCAR’s big race from the weekend, the Coca Cola 600, when Dale Earnhardt Jnr – again sporting the National Guard sponsorship – ran out of gas on the final corner.

Now, it was only coincidence, wasn’t it?

Monday
Unlike the bus I needed to be on, I didn’t miss it. Luke Donald won the PGA Championship at Wentworth to become the new world no.1.

He replaces Martin Kaymer, who in February took over from Lee Westwood, who at the tail-end of last year took top spot after Tiger Woods had gone off the road.

Like buses, you wait on a no.1 coming along and suddenly you get three in quick succession…

Swansea City (I remember when they were only a Town) become the first Welsh club to achieve Premier League status. Their success comes a few hours after Dave Jones was sacked. So no reunion tour for The Monkees, then…

Tuesday
As I Tweeted, I’ve always been an admirer of FIFA president Sepp Blatter ever since he started his speech to the assembled ranks and friends at the annual Scottish Football Writers’ dinner a dozen years ago with the line “Most people think Switzerland is only famous for cuckoo clocks.”

A dozen years on, they don’t just think that Sepp…

Wednesday
And through Twitter, basketball star Shaquille O’Neal says he’s quitting.

Now that came of something of a surprise to his current team, the Boston Celtics, who said the player had not notified them of his plans.

A 7’1’’ ex-Celt? There is no word on whether Neil Lennon is monitoring the situation…

Thursday
First minister Alex Salmond will meet representatives of the Old Firm to make sure he has their support in the battle against sectarianism.

Salmond will conduct meeting with new Gers owner Craig Whyte, and with Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell.

Nice to see him being even-handed when it comes identifying the main players. So we can expect word of a meeting with Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov soon, Mr Salmond?

Friday
Normally I wouldn’t pass comment on Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. But they make it in to my sporting week because I spotted they were looking for a tutor for their kids Moses and Apple. But not just any old tutor.

For they must be able to teach Ancient Greek, Latin, French and Spanish, and be able to give lessons in sailing and tennis.

I can think of one or two tennis players who could probably pass as French or Spanish teachers. But when it comes to sailing and Ancient Greek, the only person I could think of was that bloke Jason, who palled about with those Argonauts…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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The Ashes. <em>Picture: Mskadu</em>

The Ashes. Picture: Mskadu

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Christmas Day. Always brilliant to see the look of the faces of children and adults alike. Anticipation on the part of the little ones, bewilderment on the older generation as they struggle to assemble the various toys and goodies.

Still, I worked out why the Wii is so called, simply because it is piss-easy to set up. After numerous games of ten-pin bowling, baseball and tennis (where it took me a few hours to acknowledge that I was never going to get my double-handed, top-spin, backhand return to work this side of another Christmas), and having superbly defended my alpha-male status against my six-year-old son Callum, it was time to sit down and recall Christmases past.

“Did you have a Wii when you were a wee boy?.”

“No. “

“Just a Playstation?”

“No”.

I wasn’t sure what to read into his facial expressions – a mix of shock, horror, disbelief and even sympathy – as I tried to explain the delights and difficulties of mastering Subbuteo, of my generation, the-then state-of-the-art table-top football game. Even he saw how technologically advanced it wasn’t with the cutting line: “Just using your fingers?” As he sat resplendent in his green and black Adidas number, he fired off his next salvo.

“Did you have a Chelsea strip like mine?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because they wore yellow then.”

“Did you have a yellow one then?”

“No.”

“Did you have a blue one?”

“Yes! Yes I did!” I countered with a rapier-like Wii forehand cross-court drive.

“And I also had Manchester United home and away, Everton, Liverpool home and away, Ipswich Town, Leicester City, Bristol City, Leeds United, Real Madrid, USSR, Portugal, Greece, Marseille, Linfield, Anderlecht, Preston North End, Poland, Cyprus, Stockport County, Barnsley, Chesterfield, Cowdenbeath, Queen of the South, Carlisle United, Denmark, Cardiff City, Swansea, Wrexham, Rangers, Walsall, Charlton, Millwall, Bournemouth and Raith Rovers (although not entirely sure about them but it sounded good).”

“Wow!”

Yes, wow indeed wee man. What I didn’t say of course was that they were devoid of club emblems and badges. But the all blue, all red and all white kits from Kays Catalogue enabled you to manufacture countless permutations, up to a point, although with a bit of ingenuity.

“Oh, and Arsenal. But only if you pulled your red jersey over the white one and rolled the sleeves up …”

That shut him up …

Sunday
Boxing Day. Celtic beat St Johnstone. But the real news comes afterwards when manager Neil Lennon confirms Freddie Ljungberg could be moving to Parkhead.

“He’s been a world-class player for a long time,” said Lennon, although not dwelling too long on whether that was the same or different world-class to the world-class promised a year ago when Robbie Keane arrived …

Monday
Boxing Day II. Glasgow beat Edinburgh in the first instalment of the 1872 Cup at Firhill. The appearance of the Edinburgh kit would have shocked many a traditionalist, who would have toiled to get their heads around a kit that looked like scrumpled up Christmas paper.

Tuesday
There is sad news today with the passing of former Rangers defender Avi Cohen, aged 54, who succumbed to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident last week. While more recognised in this country as a Liverpool player, he was one of the many arrivals during the time when Graeme Souness was in charge at Ibrox, And while he made just a few appearances, his contributions in a blue jersey will not be forgotten. Eventful they were, including a win over Dynamo Kiev (virtually the Soviet state World Cup from the previous year), that 2-2 Old Firm draw, and a winner’s medal in the Skol Cup final.

Wednesday
England retain the Ashes. My thoughts haven’t changed, namely that a decent England team playing at their best have beaten an Australian team who are a cheap imitation of the previous model. In skippering his team to victory, Andrew Strauss (who is only South African born) becomes the first England captain to do so Down Under since another Middlesex man, Mike Gatting, in the winter of 86/87.

Now there was an athlete. Gatting was a popular guy, able to comment first-hand on how both captains would be feeling, one as a winner, the other – Australia’s Ricky Ponting – on being pilloried for his outburst at the umpire which lost him two-fifths of his match fee. Gatting was in full flow with his criticism of Ponting when it was pointed out that he had been embroiled with a certain Shakoor Rana many years ago. But Gatting’s defence was textbook, padding up with the reply; “Yes, but that was different!”

Thursday
Late night Thursday. And it emerges from Australia that Kevin Pietersen believes the actions that saw him lose the captaincy were key to England retaining the Ashes. Pietersen resigned as skipper in January 2009, after his attempt to have coach Peter Moores sacked made his own position untenable. “We would not be here today if I had not done what I did. I got rid of the captaincy for the good of English cricket,” said Pietersen. If only he came across as modest as that more often …

Friday
No sporting year would be complete without a glance to see who had been rewarded in the New Year Honours List. Journalists of course, are given advance notice of this release in order that we can prepare copy, articles and tributes around the announcement.

That part, in my experience, has not always been welcomed, or understood by some recipients who believe they are sworn to secrecy and who will lie and deny any such Honours nonsense just so they don’t let the cat out of the bag.

I don’t have a problem with Honours being handed out. What I do take issue with is the decision making process and the mechanics behind these awards, which are seriously flawed.

Exhibit A: Stirling Moss, a four-times world championship runner-up receives a Knighthood ahead of three-times world champion Jackie Stewart.

Exhibit B: Paul Collingwood, who received an MBE as part of England’s 2005 Ashes winning side, despite having played just once and scoring 17 runs.

Exhibit C: The various bench-warmers MBE, who were part of England’s 2003 World Cup winning squad.

I could go on. But this is as much about having someone pushing your name and knowing how the system works than out-and-out dedication and sporting achievement.

So who should have been rewarded this year and wasn’t? Try motorbike racer Ian Hutchinson, the first man in the history of the Isle of Man TT races to win all five senior races in the same week, doing something, at a location, where most of us would be hospitalised or worse after two or three bends.

Amongst those who were honoured in 2010 are golfer Graeme McDowall, who for winning his first major and Ryder Cup success gets an MBE, along with referee Howard Webb for his record 14 yellow cards and one red in a World Cup final, and veteran rugby league commentator Ray French, who in my eyes never quite managed to fill Eddie Waring’s camel coat.

Others receiving medals include rugby player Mike Catt, who having won an MBE for winning the World Cup in 2003, now gets an OBE for retiring. Make him Exhibit D.

One person suitably rewarded is George Kerr, the 72-year-old from Edinburgh, who in February became one of only 19 people since 1935 – and only the second Briton – to have achieved the status of 10th Dan in judo. He gets a CBE, and given his qualifications, I am not going to argue with that.

But were they forced into recognising George after the Emperor of Japan a few months ago awarded him with the Order of the Rising Sun?

And for a moment, I almost admitted to getting the same – until I realised it was an order from the Rising Sun, albeit with complimentary prawn crackers …

Neil Lennon’s response was scathing, but then he has never allowed meekness a foothold in his life. In the wake of Celtic’s 2-0 defeat to Ross County in the Scottish Cup at Hampden last Saturday, he delivered a verdict on some of his players that struck at the very heart of the despondency that has so blemished the club’s season.

As caretaker manager, Lennon must accept some of the blame for a performance that lacked the kind of competitive vigour expected in even the most mundane of fixtures. That Celtic were listless in the semi-final of the only competition they had a reasonable chance of winning this season was symptomatic of a campaign in which some fundamental standards have been discarded. But then Lennon chose his strongest possible side and he was, ultimately, let down by the same players whose indifference proved ruinous to Tony Mowbray.

Lennon acted swiftly and conspicuously in removing Landry N’Guemo four minutes before half-time, although the replacement, Marc Crosas, is another deep-lying midfielder whose distribution lacks tempo or ambition. Since Lennon’s reactions tended to the furious, and occasionally violent (he hurled a water bottle to the ground with venom at one stage, and later kicked another fiercely) whenever Georgios Samaras and Marc-Antoine Fortune surrendered possession with a languid ambivalence, we can be certain how he considered their displays.

All four players have been indifferent all season, although Celtic were further undermined by some hapless defending, further emphasising the misjudgment of not making a centre-back the priority of the January transfer window, rather than the high-profile loan signing of Robbie Keane. Lennon’s agitation on the touchline was evident, and he knew that his claims for the job receded with every failure to counter a First Division side playing confidently, and determinedly, to a clever game-plan.

“I am sick of seeing our players fall over,” Lennon said afterwards. “I am sick of seeing strikers not wanting to go in where it hurts to score a goal for the team. We can’t keep clean sheets either, we’re too soft. We have gone out of every competition this season with a whimper. I’m way past angry with them. I didn’t let them leave after the game. I spoke to them for 15 minutes and basically told them what I thought of them. Whether I am here or not next season I told them that I am pretty sure some of them won’t be.”

Lennon felt cheated by some of his players, and it is unlikely that either Samaras or Fortune will feature against Motherwell on Tuesday night in a Premier League game that Celtic need to win to at least delay Rangers’ progress to retaining the title. Edson Braafheid, the Dutch defender on loan from Bayern Munich, has been fined for leaving Hampden after learning that he had been left out of the match squad.

The sense is of a team in turmoil and Lennon, an inexperienced manager, is attempting to apply some order. His ambition was to impress enough to be offered the job full-time come the end of the season, but beyond his own disappointment last weekend, his deepest regret was for the way Celtic have performed this season.

“It has been shambolic, let’s not mince our words,” he said. “They are nowhere near good enough. We are 13 points off Rangers, we have gone out of the League Cup in the quarter-finals, we have gone out of the Scottish Cup in the semi-final and we couldn’t make it out of the group in the Uefa Cup. You tell me, is that good enough for Celtic? It reinforces the fact that I want it more, but you have to take the bad with the good and take the humiliation that comes with it, the criticism.

“People talk about Tony [Mowbray] not instilling passion in the team and this, that and the other, but those are things you can’t give to players. You can get them motivated and they pull the wool over your eyes telling you that they’re up for it.”

It has been a wretched season for Celtic, and Lennon can only hope to restore some pride in the closing weeks.

Already, Tony Mowbray is forgotten amid the conjecture and assertions about who might replace him as Celtic manager. That is so often the way of it in a game that considers self-renewal a kind of virtue. He lasted nine months at Parkhead, but for so long it seemed a trial, not only of his capability but of his very identity, that the wonder is where his own future lies.

Mowbray left behind a sense of futility, something that was beginning to feel like a malaise. His team was no longer able to adequately overcome the limitations he imposed. He sought a style that was exemplary and was unprepared to tolerate more mundane standards. Mowbray’s idealism was the quality that secured him the job last summer, but then he was too intransigent in his application of that vision.

Rather than develop a side that might, eventually, perform to the aesthetic values he so treasures, Mowbray set about urgently dismantling a team that, for all its faults, contained players who understood implicitly the demand of Old Firm supporters for their club to be superior. If we might accuse him of anything, it was being too ambitious, too impatient to seek radical change.

The January transfer window could have brought a form of salvation, but in allowing strong, influential figures such as Barry Robson and Scott McDonald to leave, Mowbray lost something of the heart of his team. The arrival of Robbie Keane on loan from Tottenham Hotspur was invigorating, but he only represented a surface gloss; it was substance that Celtic required.

Central defence was a source of vulnerability, while midfield was an area that never seemed balanced. But, in truth, the vital frailty lay in the manager’s attitude. It was revealed most explicitly the night Celtic lost 4-0 to St Mirren in Paisley, a result that carried a great weight of historical significance. It was the club’s worst league defeat – outwith Old Firm games – in 30 years and St Mirren’s biggest win over Celtic in 51 years.

Yet in the aftermath, Mowbray sought to justify his insistence on attack as a form of righteousness. His team finished the game with six forwards on the field, and was so haplessly lacking in shape and discipline that St Mirren’s final two goals were scored with an almost casual indifference. The Celtic manager claimed, though, that there were “positive reasons for a negative result”. He also talked of Scottish football not being conducive to the kind of stylised football, of flair and individual impetuosity, that he considers the highest form of the game.

His remarks were churlish, but then perhaps he knew, instinctively, that this defeat was too significant to survive. The following day, Mowbray was effectively sacked. A decent man, who has shown great dignity in his life, Mowbray is in many ways an admirable figure. But a little more pragmatism, and flexibility, would make him a better manager.

The West Bromwich Albion team he led to promotion was bold and endearing, but their season in the Premiership, which ended in relegation, revealed this obstinacy in Mowbray, so that at times he seems prepared to accept negative results because of an adherence to some high-minded values. Perhaps a spell out of the game will allow time for reflection, and for him to become the manager he has the potential to be.

In Neil Lennon, Celtic have appointed, in the interim at least, a figure of authority. Players will respond to Lennon’s command; there is an emotive quality to him, something passionate and affecting. His leadership can revive the club, and with a Scottish Cup semi-final against Ross County next month there is a form of salvation left for this season.

Having never managed before, Lennon might lack the experience to provide a longer-term solution. He undoubtedly leads from the heart, and will restore a sense of pride in the team, but it is a daunting job for a novice. Mowbray had been an impressive manager at Hibernian and West Brom before he arrived, and the role seemed to consume him. Taking charge of either half of the Old Firm is a job for the hard-headed.

The drama was predictable. Several of the referee’s decisions were dwelled upon at Ibrox, while Rangers found the wherewithal to seize a late victory. The outcome was familiar because Celtic have been confounded by their Old Firm rivals all season. The title race, too, now seems routine.

Rangers are 10 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premier League, with a game in hand against St Johnstone to come. For Celtic, the 1-0 defeat felt like a devastating blow, particularly since the visitors must have thought they had endured. Scott Brown’s red card midway through the second-half diminished their ambition and as the game entered injury time, a draw would have seemed heartening.

Opportunities had been sporadic and Rangers’ attacking was anxious. The siege of Celtic’s goal looked hapless, but when Artur Boruc pushed Sasa Papac’s shot wide, there was a stir of urgency. From the resulting corner, in the 93rd minute, Boruc blocked from Kris Boyd, and Maurice Edu drove in the rebound.

Tony Mowbray conceded afterwards that the championship is Rangers’ to lose. The Celtic manager was circumspect, and he chose to deflect questions about Brown’s dismissal by saying he had not yet seen television footage of the incident. The midfielder certainly pushed his head into Kyle Lafferty’s midriff as the players tussled for possession, although the contact seemed meagre.

Dougie McDonald, the referee, was erratic. Brown forced him to make a decision, and he opted to be severe. Last week an anonymous source at Celtic was attributed with criticism of match officials this season, with the inference being that the Parkhead side are constant victims of poor decisions.

It sounded like an expression of persecution, and all SPL teams can point to incidents that tell of a decline in refereeing standards. Even Hugh Dallas, the head of Scotland’s match officials, spoke recently of his disappointment. Celtic will dwell upon the fact that Madjid Bougherra did not receive a second yellow card for various fouls, having been booked in the opening minutes, but mostly the contentious decisions were subjective.

Rangers prevailed by being sufficient. David Weir and Bougherra coped with Robbie Keane, while Kevin Thomson was the game’s outstanding player. There is no extravagance to the Ibrox side, but the reaction to the goal was telling. Every figure on the bench launched into celebration, with Walter Smith charging onto the pitch to punch the air, Ally McCoist gamboling down the touchline and Kenny McDowall raising a television microphone to wave it jubilantly.

Smith was more restrained afterwards, and spoke cuttingly about the added pressure on McDonald. He called for the critic to come out of the closet, and the sense was of a second blow being landed on Rangers’ opponents. But his mood was predominantly one of satisfaction. Rangers have lost only once this season, so their lead appears invulnerable. Smith will be baleful towards any notion of complacency, all the same, but he might reflect on the value of his work this season.

Rangers are beset by financial difficulties, and the team is often careworn, but they have shown a remarkable obduracy. Willpower alone has been potent. Celtic can still apply pressure, but their reliance now is on a fragility suddenly undermining their rivals.

The scrutiny, though, is on Mowbray. His team-building has been piecemeal and the lack of defensive security is a calamitous flaw. Keane can still bring glamour to the cause, and the back four will improve once injured players return and stability of selection becomes possible. But the season now seems relinquished.

This was Smith’s 26th Old Firm victory, equalling the records of Jock Stein and Scot Symon. His ability to rouse a team, to draw from it a compelling worth, has been vital.

A sense of triumph seemed the most emphatic response to Robbie Keane’s arrival at Celtic Park late last Monday night. The club’s supporters gathered outside the old stadium seeking the kind of elation that would renew not only their optimism but perhaps even the team’s momentum. The Republic of Ireland striker represents the type of signing that can galvanise a club.

The extent of his ability is beyond reproach – he is Ireland’s all-time top scorer and 10th in the English Premier League’s top scorer list with 121 goals – and at 29 he remains in the prime of a career that has been played mostly on the edges of the game’s highest level (although Internazionale and Liverpool both signed the striker, he stayed at the clubs for only four months and six months respectively).

But then he brings something more to Celtic, and to Scottish football. Keane possesses genuine star quality; he is the kind of high-profile and established player that the game in this country long ago lost the credentials to attract. Keane immediately becomes the most pivotal, and most prominent player at Celtic Park, which will ease a little of the burden of responsibility on Aiden McGeady and allow him more freedom in which to flourish.

Keane will also bring a surge of exhilaration to the squad, a sudden reassertion of where the club stands, and the lead Rangers have established at the top of the Premier League will seem less pronounced in the minds of the players. There is a financial gamble in signing a player paid £70,000 a week by Tottenham, even if it is a loan deal until the end of the season. But then Dermot Desmond, the club’s majority shareholder, assisted in financing Roy Keane’s time at Celtic, and the effect on the club’s self-esteem is priceless. If the team does manage to win the league this season, and reach the Champions League group stages, there will also be a detrimental impact on Rangers’ finances.

Celtic Park has seldom been full this season and the supporters had come to see some doubt in Tony Mowbray’s work as Rangers took the initiative in the title race. With one signing, this sense of uncertainty, at least in the minds of the fans, has been eradicated. With his effervescence, intelligent dynamism and sharp sense of timing, Keane will provide the kind of quality that Celtic have lacked up front this season. But he will also rejuvenate the game in Scotland, by adding a sense of drama and intrigue to the tussle between Rangers and Celtic.

The rest of Mowbray’s transfer business became lost in the commotion of Keane’s signing – several thousand supporters waited outside Celtic Park until his arrival at close to midnight, and flares were set off sending green smoke into the night sky – but the turnover in players has been chillingly decisive. Along with Keane, Diomansy Kamara, Edson Braafheid, Ki Sung-Yueng, Jos Hooiveld, Thomas Rogne, Morten Rasmussen and Paul Slane all joined the cub in January, while Mark Brown, Willo Flood, Chris Killen, Gary Caldwell, Stephen McManus, Danny Fox, Barry Robson and Scott McDonald left the club.

There is ruthlessness in the way Mowbray has purged his squad and while Keane’s signing is likely to be short-term, the Celtic manager will now consider that the foundations are in place for the style and intent of the team that has so far resided most clearly in his imagination. It will take time for this disturbance to the squad to settle, but then Keane’s signing – something so bold and, even, audacious – will surely help to bring the players together.

Whatever happens between now and the end of the season, Celtic have shown, not only in the signing of Keane but in the overhaul of the squad, faith in their manager.