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Danny Stewart: Betfred Cup final is an unwelcome reminder of the trouble in Paradise for Celtic fans

© Craig Williamson / SNS GroupScott Brown and Calum McGregor with the BetFred Cup
There will be no green-and-white ribbons on the League Cup this afternoon.

Having seen Neil Lennon depart earlier this week, Celtic fans will today get an unwelcome reminder of the trouble in Paradise that lay behind his exit.

One of Scottish football’s three major trophies is up for grabs and, for the first time in nearly half-a-decade, green-and-white ribbons will not be required.

Either the amber and black of Livingston or the blue, yellow and white colours of St Johnstone will adorn the Betfred League Cup come presentation time.

Whichever one it is, will commemorate the success of a deserving winner.

Livi have been one of the great success stories of a Covid-hit campaign. The way Saints have kicked on under the charge of Callum Davidson has been hugely impressive.

Yet it is inescapable that the showpiece, to be played out behind closed doors at Hampden Park, will also be a reminder of what might have been for all those not there.

For St Mirren, who swept aside both Rangers and Aberdeen in a bold run but somehow lost the courage of their convictions in the semi-final with Livingston.

For Hibs, who played some terrific football this season but were clinically taken apart by St Johnstone in the second semi.

But most of all, for the club who have won it in each of the last four seasons: Celtic.

They got unceremoniously dumped out of the competition back in November when Ross County came to Celtic Park and – in a truly startling result – beat the holders 2-0.

Lennon should have gone then. It is no coincidence that losing to the same opponent last week proved the final straw.

As it was, majority shareholder Dermot Desmond, vowed not to bow to the mob who rioted outside Celtic Park afterwards and the manager stayed in place.

Defeat for Neil Lennon in his last game as Celtic boss © Craig Williamson / SNS Group
Defeat for Neil Lennon in his last game as Celtic boss

From that moment on, though, there are few who believed he would still be there to oversee the Hoops’ 2021-22 League Cup campaign.

That responsibility will now be down to someone else.

John Kennedy has been left in caretaker charge and, with Desmond having stated that replacing Lennon will not be easy, he could be in place for a while.

Sort out some of the most obvious problems, and here the failure to defend set-pieces springs to mind, and he could have a claim to the job on a permanent basis.

With no instant replacement installed, contenders like Eddie Howe, Roberto Martinez and Steve Clarke (after the Euros) will continue to be linked with the club.

Whoever it is will face the task of trying to re-establish dominance over a Rangers team who are getting better and better all the time.

And strengthening.

Developing talents Scott Wright (23) and Jack Simpson (24) were brought in in January with next season in mind and are currently being eased into the side.

Nnamdi Ofoborh (21), who was a team-mate of Simpson’s at Bournemouth up until the last window, has also signed up on a pre-contract, though he will stay down south on loan at Wycombe Wanderers for the remainder of the campaign.

Celtic have, in fairness, snapped up Sheffield Wednesday’s 19-year-old midfielder Liam Shaw in a similar type of cross-border raid.

Fans of an optimistic bent can point to the blossoming of David Turnbull in the hoops as a positive sign for the future.

Anyone who had watched the midfielder in action in 2018-19 when he won the Young Player of the Year award while with Motherwell has known the Scot is an excellent footballer.

Now clear of the injury which caused his 2019 move to Celtic to be delayed a year, he is flourishing. Provided he can stay clear of injury, he is one to build the side around.

Ismaila Soro has done more than enough to suggest he can be a long-term partner for Turnbull in the centre of midfield.

Callum McGregor is going to be the captain for years to come, James Forrest can provide much-needed penetration in the wide areas and Stephen Welsh can become the latest academy success.

No one would doubt there is plenty of other talent in the squad. How to best harness it while tackling the pressing need for a rebuild, is the question.

Shipping out those who want to follow in the footsteps of Olivier Ntcham will help engender a more positive mindset.

With resources the envy of every other club in Scotland, Celtic have the means to bounce back strongly and, thanks to the dramatic success of Brendan Rodgers from 2016-19, a recent precedent to look back on.

As for motivation, well if the sight of a domestic rival lifting silverware in a precursor to Rangers’ title success does not provide it, nothing will.