Neil Lennon has denied Scott Sinclair is being frozen out at Celtic.
Sinclair has made only four substitute appearances this season, scoring once in the 3-1 win in Sarajevo.
Lennon insists that Sinclair hasn’t featured due to the form of other wide men.
Asked if Sinclair might feel disenfranchised, Lennon said: “If he feels like that, it’s understandable,” reports the Record.
He continued: “We don’t want to treat him badly because he’s a senior pro. It’s just that he’s finding it difficult right now to get into the squad. I can’t pick six wingers.”
No one expects six wingers to feature. On the right, James Forrest is an obvious first pick. On the left, Mikey Johnston has had a good start to the season, but is an emerging talent and won’t play a full 90 minutes every week.
Lewis Morgan, while not wishing to write him off, hasn’t set the heather alight, either before his loan spell to Sunderland or on his return.
Lennon sees something in him and that’s fair enough. But when we’re heading out of the Champions League against Cluj, we had a player who has scored six goals in these qualifiers not even in the squad, while Morgan, who has never scored at all for the club, came off the bench.
Morgan seems a hard worker, but that’s the minimum that should be expected. It may be that once he gets his first goal his confidence will take off, but he hasn’t been much of a provider either.
There’s a fair argument that Sinclair should have been replaced, but fans would expect that, when a player on the decline is replaced, the man coming in would be an upgrade. So far, that’s not the case with Sinclair and it’s mystifying to see him excluded from squads in these circumstances.
Lennon used the Englishman sparingly after taking over from Brendan Rodgers, so it was a something of a surprise that a one-year extension was activated.
Celtic evidently would have liked money for Sinclair, who is still only 30. But taking up a one-year deal for a highly paid player is the equivalent of bringing someone in on loan and refusing to play him.
The situation to date is reminiscent of that of Bobo Balde who was frozen out of the team after refusing to be forced into a move, while Celtic went 15 months without managing to keep a clean sheet (ironically, a dismal run that was ended when Balde made a surprise first appearance in a year).
If there was any English interest in Sinclair, it’s gone now as a move to the third or fourth tier would have limited appeal while a switch to Europe also appears unlikely.
Sinclair had a blistering first season after signing for Brendan Rodgers in 2016.
His first game in the hoops was against today’s opponents, Hearts, and he duly scored the winner to get his Celtic career off to a flier.
As Celtic’s outstanding talent in an invincible treble Treble season, scoring 25 goals in all competitions, Sinclair was recognised with player of the year awards from the Celtic fans, his fellow players and Scottish football writers.
His form in his second season dipped sharply. He still found the net 18 times, although Celtic’s form as a whole had dipped.
Having gone an entire season undefeated, and recording only four draws, the 2017/18 would see Celtic lose four matches and draw 10.
If Sinclair’s first and second seasons had been swapped, along with that of the team as a whole, he would most likely have been considered a reasonable success, capable of more. A similar report card to the team.
Expectations had been raised dramatically, though, after that incredible first season.
Somewhat inevitably, Rodgers’ second season, and Sinclair’s, would be a tougher slog. Celtic lacked inspiration at times and patience was already wearing thin with Sinclair by the turn of the year.
The player would only in flashes show again show the form of his first season, but he was still a valuable contributor, scoring important goals on the way to a second Treble, which Celtic duly secured after blowing away the opposition as we got to the business end of the campaign.
A similar story unfolded last season. Sinclair again struggling for form and confidence would nevertheless chip in with 17 goals, with three vital strikes coming on Boxing Day at Pittodrie.
Lennon says Sinclair is not being frozen out. If that’s the case, today would be a good time to see him back on the bench at least.
Nine of Sinclair’s 61 goals have come against the Tynecastle outfit and it would give us more options with crucial games against AIK and Rangers to come.
If there was a better option available than Sinclair, then Celtic fans would understand his omission.
However, if it’s purely down to football as Neil Lennon insists, and bearing in mind the obvious pitfalls of making such predictions, Sinclair seems the obvious choice over Morgan right now.