Byline: by MARK WILSON
NEIL LENNON has been here before. As a player, he once responded to the disappointment of losing the title on the final day by helping Celtic lift the Scottish Cup less than a week later.
Repeating the trick as a manager is now essential to supply a silver lining to a debut season in charge that has carried much promise without yet delivering a tangible prize.
Six years ago, the anguish the Parkhead club felt at losing out on the SPL crown was far more pronounced than that currently being endured.
Back then, of course, it was Scott McDonald's two late goals for Motherwell that inflicted the most gut-wrenching of defeats.
A last-gasp loss at Fir Park for Martin O'Neill's men delivered the championship to a scarcely-believing Rangers squad at Easter Road and became enshrined as perhaps the most dramatic of all campaign conclusions.
The pain O'Neill's squad felt at that denouement was profound, yet they managed to rally for the manager's final match in charge and see off Dundee United 1-0 at Hampden thanks to an early goal from Alan Thompson.
Lennon was alongside his current first-team coach in midfield at the national stadium that afternoon.
It's an experience he may well draw upon before sending his players out to face Motherwell in this Saturday's showpiece.
Unlike events in 2005, the current Celtic squad is not approaching the occasion in a state of shock.
Losing this season's league title to Rangers is something that -- on a subconscious level, at least -- they will have been preparing for ever since the final whistle sounded on a shock 3-2 defeat in Inverness 13 days ago.
Sunday's futile 4-0 win over Motherwell at Celtic Park was not a day soaked in despair, but rather one brimming with defiance.
A steadfast and passionate show of support was delivered from the stands for Lennon after the appalling series of threats he has endured in recent months.
The manager knows better than anyone, though, that rewarding the fanbase with silverware is paramount in his role.
When he looked ahead to the cup final after the SPL clash with Stuart McCall's men, Lennon spoke of an 'obligation' to win.
Questions would undoubtedly surface should that not be the outcome.
Having already lost the Co-operative Insurance Cup Final to Rangers, a crunch defeat to a team who finished sixth in the top flight would bring fresh credence to Kyle Lafferty's taunt about Celtic failing when the going gets tough.
Victory, on the other hand, would frank the positive nature of Lennon's work and send Celtic off on a summer break with a spring in their step and the belief that embellishing their current pool of players will be enough to deliver the major prize next term. …