At the start of the season it was all about the nine.

Now it’s the 12.

In the eyes of some, Celtic’s exit from the Europa League suddenly makes the deliverance of a quadruple treble – seriously – the only thing that will frame the season as a success.

In a week in which Neil Lennon was praised for the manner in which he took over following the exit of Brendan Rodgers a year ago, it took just one game to highlight the begrudged nature of some of the plaudits.

So long as it is going well there is an acceptance of Lennon, but any wobble invites immediate flak. It was there on the back of the defeat to Rangers in December and it did not take long to bring it to the fore on Thursday evening following the defeat to Copenhagen.

That Celtic shot themselves in the foot was irrefutable. And teams who concede goals as cheaply as Celtic did on Thursday night have no right to expect to go any further in the competition.

The frustration will lie in the fact that there is a way to lose a game of football and there is a way to gift it. That it was the latter which ended Celtic’s European campaign will be the real niggle for Lennon.

The Parkhead side have not won a post-Christmas knockout tie in Europe since 2004, a damning stat that ought to have been rectified against Copenhagen. Whether the defeat is allowed to echo now will depend on just how Celtic react against St Johnstone tomorrow afternoon.

But ultimately a substantial body of work has been undertaken by both Celtic and Rangers in Europe this season. Rangers are the last man standing as they prepare for games next month against Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen and few would argue that both teams have done things this campaign to give the co-efficient a boost that will echo rewardingly in the next few seasons.

There has been some respectability in the climb up the table that ought to bring with it an extra Champions League qualification berth and, perhaps crucially, fewer qualification rounds to negotiate from 2021/22.

Rangers have their work cut out making further in-roads into the tournament given the quality that Leverkusen possess.

Yet, as news of the draw filtered through yesterday afternoon as Gerrard’s pre-match Scottish Cup press conference was already underway, there was a reluctance on his part to look too hard at what the Europa League campaign may have delivered for Rangers.

If there is an argument that outwith Scottish shores Gerrard’s stock will rise in tandem with European involvement regardless of what happens in a domestic context given the lack of respect afforded to the Scottish environment, then his demeanour does not reflect it.

Indeed, as the Rangers manager spoke of today’s Scottish Cup game against Hearts he did not shirk from an acceptance that is the biggest game of the season for the Ibrox side. This evening’s 90 minutes at Tynecastle feels bigger than the 90 minutes in Portugal on Wednesday night.

If Gerrard could have cherry-picked one of the games to win, there is a fair chance he’d have sacrificed European progress for domestic success. He doesn’t just need to win this game tonight against Hearts who have been problematic for Rangers on home soil this season, he needs to win the cup.

The Ibrox side went for it this summer in terms of pushing the boat out to put a spoke in Celtic’s relentless domestic wheel. Gerrard has had the guts of £22million to invest in the playing squad since his arrival – Ryan Kent’s £7m took the biggest single chunk of that – and there is an increasing frustration now as the Rangers support yearn for an end to a barren run that stretches to nine years without a major trophy.

The Ibrox side have improved immeasurably. They should have won the League Cup at Hampden. They could yet be on course for a 90-point season. They have acquitted themselves well in a European context but Gerrard’s arrival was all about delivering silverware. There was always a suspicion that the league was too much of a leap but the pressure is on now for the Scottish Cup.

Lennon did not drop the ball when he stepped into the breach vacated by Rodgers. The relentlessness of Celtic was unaffected by the departure of his fellow countryman but yet he too will feel the pressure on the drive up to Perth tomorrow afternoon.

Glasgow Times:


Michael Santos left Glasgow with more than just a goal for a souvenir.

If ever there was an indication that the po-faced Glasgow police needed to lighten up a little it was there as the Copenhagen player raced towards his own support – who had travelled more than a little distance – to celebrate with them and his team-mates as the Danes netted a match-winning second goal on Thursday night.

Charged with “assaulting” a police officer in the fracas that followed the celebrations, it seems like an absurd over-reaction.

How often does a lack of common-sense at football matches lead to an escalation in events that could be so easily smoothed over with

a bit of pragmatism? And a little humour might well go a long way.