The results have been something of a mixed bag. In fact Neil’s record to date is :
Played 26 Won 11 Drawn 6 Lost 9 to give him a win percentage of 42.31%
During Neil’s tenure since he joined us in October 2014 we have moved away from the relegation zone to 14th, dropped back to 19th and at one point today could have been 20th but now sit 17th in the Championship where we appear to be likely to hold steady. Given where we were and how we were performing prior to his arrival it could be argued that this constitutes a success for the Northern Irishman and that he will now have a foundation to build on in the summer to try and push up the league towards the play offs or even automatic promotion in the 2015/16 season.
So is Neil succeeding or failing? Is a win ratio of 42% a sign that things are going to get better or has the recent woeful run simply shown us that he’s peaked already? Personally I think it’s more likely to be the former than the latter but some people would disagree.
However there’s more to be said for a manager’s impact than a simple look at bare statistics will ever tell us. Football, like so many sports and other forms of entertainment is often a subjective rather than objective experience where the mood is at least as important as the results. A classic case would be a comparison of Owen Coyle and Gary Megson. Both men finished 14th in the prem in their first full season in charge and the points total was very similar but look at the whole picture and you’ll see a huge difference in how the results were perceived.
This brings us to Neil Lennon. He isn’t performing miracles but neither is he dragging us all down into a mire of depression either. What he’s done so far is bring back some spark and entertainment wherever possible but he’s also handicapped by a wafer thin squad and zero budget that means even the greatest manager would have a hard time making us promotion contenders. The injury list is horrific, the squad has no strength in depth and there’s no real expectation that we will be buying big in the summer. And yet I and many others feel cautiously optimistic because for all the barriers he faces Neil is getting the results we need when we need them. Take Saturday's game, it was essential that we got that win especially after the last few games on the road had left us teetering on the brink of being dragged back into the dogfight. We got it, maybe not prettily but we got the three points that allow us all to breathe a little easier today.
For my money Neil is the best manager we’ve had since Sam Allardyce and like the big man himself he knows how to adapt his game plan to suit out strengths and exploit the opposition’s weaknesses. When we’ve lost under him it’s not been the system at fault, it’s just we don’t have much in the way of quality available right now. If I was a Headmaster giving him a progess report I’d give Neil a solid B+ for his work so far. It’s improving the club but there’s plenty more work to be done. However I do feel that if anyone can do it then that man is Neil Lennon. He’s got the mix of brains, nerve, skill and luck that any manager needs to be successful. Come the summer we’ll get back most if not all of those currently on the sick list and with that nucleus to build around and promising youngsters like Clough finally getting a real chance to shine I think we’ll see a very different start to the term than the last two. I have genuine faith that Neil can do it and more importantly will do it.