NEIL LENNON knows more than anyone that as Celtic manager - particularly during a difficult run of form - that his every public utterance will be scrutinised and analysed, with meanings attributed to his words that he may not have meant at all.

He doesn’t even have to say anything, in fact, with his more reserved body language these days even being construed as a sign that the famous fire in his belly has been extinguished.

So it was that Lennon must have wished he could have reached out and wolfed down the words that escaped from his mouth the other day when he said that players these days can sometimes be ‘over-coached’.

Without presuming to know the inner workings of Lennon’s mind, what I think he meant from that is that players can become confused sometimes if coaches over-complicate instructions. But those words are being used as a stick by which to beat him with, particularly as his team has often looked disjointed during this bumpy three-match spell which has brought defeats to Rangers and AC Milan and a ramshackle draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

The last impression his team were giving off during those games, say his critics, is that they were over-coached.

It all feeds into a narrative around the Celtic manager that he is too old-school, not in touch with the complexities of the modern game, and that standards have slipped around Lennoxtown even in regards to player fitness since Lennon answered the call to replace the meticulous Brendan Rodgers.

Some fans would have you think that Lennon picks the Celtic team using the tombola from the half-time Paradise Windfall draw, but this sort of talk does a massive disservice to Lennon and his coaching staff.

Nobody has to tell Lennon or John Kennedy that they will receive criticism when performances and results merit it, or even sometimes when they don’t. That’s life at such a big club, and by the Celtic manager’s own admission, the performances of his side over the course of the campaign haven’t been at the levels he would like.

The abject nature of the defeat to Rangers is driving much of the discourse around his position at present, and fans have every right to be displeased by that game in particular, but has Lennon not shown as recently as last season that he has the capacity to rally his players and recover from such a setback?

The loss to Rangers last December was every bit as demoralising from a Celtic point of view, and there was less time to do something about it. Lennon proved though that he still had the backing of his charges as they roared back to establish a 13-point lead by the time the league was brought to a halt in March.

Lennon won’t be looking for excuses for his side’s recent troubles, but there are plenty there. The impact of Coronavirus on his line-up for such a crucial week can hardly be understated, with Odsonne Edouard the biggest miss up top.

It shouldn’t be underestimated though just how keenly felt the absence of Hatem Elhamed and Nir Bitton was either. With Christopher Jullien out injured, Lennon was left with no choice but to rely on young Stephen Welsh and a stuttering Shane Duffy at the heart of his backline.

Celtic are also clearly missing the presence of Fraser Forster in goal, with his decision to knock back another loan move to the club to sit in the stands at Southampton looking both increasingly bizarre from his side, and increasingly costly from Celtic’s.

Lennon has been allowed to spend big in order to replace him, but Vasilis Barkas is taking time to settle behind a backline that has been chopped and changed more often than Paul Pogba’s barnet.

So, there is no doubt that Celtic’s quarterly report card would read ‘could do better’, but it is important to remember that even in a 10 in-a-row season, the campaign is still at a very early stage.

Throwing Lennon out with the bathwater after a rough patch may actually do more to hinder Celtic’s historical goals this term than help them. That’s not to say that a prolonged period of poor form should be ignored, but there is little chance of Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond pulling the trigger on a man they retain belief in before the bonfires are lit.

If anyone can light a fire under these Celtic players again and remind them just what is at stake this season, then you would have to say that given his track record at the club, Lennon is the perfect man to do it.

This is being written prior to last night’s Europa League match against Lille, but whatever the result, this Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen always looked to be of more significance to both Celtic and Lennon.

Lose that match, and he will of course come under the severest of pressure. But the league is the be all and end all this season, and while he is still in the race, he should remain the man in the driving seat.