FOR all that Celtic fans have wallowed in the mirth of labelling their great rivals as ‘zombies’ over the past few years, it is their team who have now assumed the role of the walking dead. A lifeless, empty vessel that shuffles on pointlessly, awaiting the day when they are shocked back into life.

Alas, it appears that Neil Lennon is not the man to revive their fortunes. There is no faint pulse among this group of players. The patient is dead.

The Celtic board aren’t listening to the feelings of their supporters, and indeed, it could be argued that the protests held by disgruntled fans back in December have at least partly been responsible for Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell digging their heels in and prolonging what now looks to be the inevitable.

With season ticket renewal forms due to land on doorsteps soon though, and with no guarantee in sight that purchasing one will admit the holder to Celtic Park in the foreseeable future, their finances may soon go the way of their depleted reserves of goodwill from the fanbase. That prospect is far likelier to get their attention than disgruntled fans storming the gates.

For many, the final straw for Lennon’s tenure was his car crash of a press conference on Monday defending the club’s trip to Dubai. For others, it may have been the draw against Livingston on Wednesday night. In truth, for the majority, their patience with the manager had worn thin well before this week, and the sad fact is that it is the results on the pitch which should have spelt the end for Lennon as Celtic boss some time ago.

In this column in late October, I defended Lennon and said that it was too early to talk about his sacking on the back of defeats to Rangers and AC Milan and a madcap 3-3 draw against Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Hindsight of course is 20/20, but at the time, Lennon had enough credit in the bank and enough recent form of turning teams around to warrant more time to get things back on track.

Unfortunately, but for a brief spell from mid-December until the Ibrox defeat in early January, the course has not been corrected, and has in fact veered wildly off the road and planted into a tree. There was no new dawn in the New Year, but simply new ways for Celtic to self-destruct.

The mid-season training camp to Dubai was a desperate attempt at salvaging their season, and has instead not only killed off any faint lingering hopes of a title challenge, but has become the long death rattle of Lennon’s Celtic career.

After the Livingston game on Wednesday night, Lennon said he didn’t know where his players had gone. His captain, Scott Brown, had of course gone for an early shower, being dismissed just five minutes after coming on as a substitute.

“We need to up our game now, and help out the manager as much as we can,” Brown said on Tuesday. Barely 24 hours later, the skipper had abandoned Lennon in the trenches.

The players as a collective have to shoulder some of the blame for Celtic’s plight. Their incompetence in defending even the simplest of set-plays, for example, has passed the point of absurdity. Only so much blame can be apportioned to the coaching team for this failing. There has to be a willingness for players to put their heads in where it hurts, and for individuals to take on the responsibility of marking their men. Kristoffer Ajer is just the latest to show such dereliction to his duties in this regard, allowing Livingston’s Ciaron Brown to stroll away from him and head home the opener during the week.

It is hard to argue that the players are still pulling for Lennon and for their teammates when one match throws up even these two examples of individuals so brazenly selling the jerseys.

I don’t blame Lennon for refusing to throw in the towel. As he said after the game, this is his life. He has poured his heart and soul into the Celtic job, and there can be no doubting how desperately he wanted to succeed this season. It is also easy to preach that the noble thing to do would be to resign, and say that a ‘real Celtic man’ would do so for the benefit of the team, when it isn’t you who would be chucking away the best part of a million quid on a contract entered into willingly by both parties.

As painful as it might be for Desmond and Lawwell to pull the trigger, it is getting harder to see how much longer they can resist it, though. The decision should now be taken out of Lennon’s hands. The board may feel they are helping Lennon by standing by him in the face of such open revolt from the fanbase, but they are simply sullying his legacy with those supporters the longer they allow this to carry on.

Whatever your opinions on Celtic’s trip to Dubai or indeed of the manager’s performance in Monday’s presser, things have regressed so badly on the pitch that you don’t even need to touch upon those incidents to make a compelling case for his dismissal.

Lennon’s Celtic have won just seven of their last 22 games. They went out of the Champions League for the second season in a row at the qualifying stage. Out of the Europa League finishing bottom of their section with two embarrassingly hefty defeats to Sparta Prague. Out of the Betfred Cup to Ross County at Celtic Park. It is hard to imagine any other Celtic manager still being in post having presided over such a period of failure. Just ask Ronny Deila, whose rap sheet in his last season in charge was strikingly similar.

Most damningly, though, with a chance to make history and secure an unprecedented tenth league title in-a-row, Celtic are out of the race by January. Nothing else really has to be said.