CELTIC legend Davie Hay has admitted he was “shocked” by Neil Lennon’s team line-up for the visit to Livingston last weekend.
The former Hoops manager and player believed the Irishman would freshen up his side for the rigours of a confrontation on the home side’s artificial surface, as Scotzine reported.
However, Lennon made just ONE change from the 11 who won 2-0 against Cluj in the Europa League Group E encounter at Parkhead on Thursday night.
And the eight-in-a-row champions surrendered their unbeaten domestic record with a fairly dismal performance in the 2-0 defeat which wasn’t helped by the 25th-minute red card for playmaker Ryan Christie following an out-of-character lunge at Scott Robinson.
Hay, speaking to the Evening Times, remarked: “I said before Celtic’s trip to Livingston that it was as important as the Cluj game. Celtic had wrested the initiative from Rangers with the win at Ibrox, and now they have handed it back to their rivals.
“The important thing is that Celtic don’t get too swept up in all the hype around Rangers at the minute. Initiative can swing week to week and I think there are going to be a lot of toing and froing before the end of the season.
“I still think that Celtic have the better players, the better team and the better squad, but Rangers are definitely closing the gap. That’s why Celtic don’t want to hand them any unnecessary impetus, and that’s what they did last week.
ONLY CHANGE…Moritz Bauer took over at right-back against Livingston.
“I also said that I thought Neil Lennon may tweak the team, but he didn’t and that surprised me.
“I get that the players were coming off the high of the Europa League win over Cluj, but going to Livingston is a completely different environment. Fair play to Livi, they have a physical approach and that seemed to knock Celtic out of their stride. You are playing on an artificial pitch that seems to affect players no matter how much they say it won’t in the lead up to the game.
“I wonder now if Neil would admit that he should have taken a different approach.
“For me, going with the freshness he had in reserve from Thursday night might have been the way to tackle the trip to Livingston and all it entails. Not only would the physical and mental fatigue not be an issue for the players on the fringes, but, psychologically, they would also be going there with a real hunger and a point to prove.
“So, it shocked me a little bit that he only changed the right-back area with Moritz Bauer coming in for Hatem Elhamed.
“There’s an element of truth to say that, collectively, it was just a bad day, but I don’t think there is any doubt that Thursday night’s exertions played their part.
“In some ways, I can understand the Celtic manager’s reasoning, because with international week looming he might have felt that a lot of his players would get a rest during that period.
“I thought though that while physical tiredness played a part, mental tiredness coming off the back of such a big game was the main issue that contributed to Celtic playing way below their normal standards.
“In hindsight, everybody is an expert, but I had mentioned this last week just for the record!”