Mohamed Elyounoussi says it is time Celtic stopped using the Covid-19 crisis to excuse their shattered 10-in-a-row dreams.
From the Boli Bolingoli saga to having 13 players plus boss Neil Lennon forced to self-isolate after Christopher Jullien returned from the club’s controversial Dubai trip with the virus, the Hoops have not had their troubles to seek.
Lennon has also repeatedly suggested the closed-door conditions enforced by the pandemic has been a factor in his side’s spectacular slump this season, while Parkhead chief Peter Lawwell stoked controversy last week when he claimed coronavirus had affected their club “probably…more than any”.
But that does not wash with Elyounoussi. Instead, the Norway forward reckons it is now time Lennon’s squad finally look themselves in the mirror and admit they have just not been good enough to keep pace with a rampant Rangers side now streaking away in the distance, 20 points ahead.
The on-loan Southampton forward, who returned to action after his stint in quarantine only to see the Hoops drop points for the fourth time this year at Livingston on Wednesday night, said: “Look, it hasn’t been a normal season with the pandemic and everything going around.
“There have been things outside football, like our self-isolation. But everyone is in the same situation. So that’s no excuse. We have to be honest here, we cannot look for excuses any more.
“Everyone needs to pick themselves up, dig in deeper and work hard. There is always the next game. We have to keep looking forward and approach every game with positivity.”
The Dubai break was supposed to be a chance for Celtic to recharge their batteries and refresh their minds after a bruising end to 2020.
But instead it backfired spectacularly. After flying out in the hours after defeat to Rangers at Ibrox, the trip was overshadowed by pictures appearing to show players breaching social distancing protocols during a day off.
Jullien’s positive test then ruled out a raft of first-team stars, leaving a scratch line-up to scrape draws with Hibernian and Livingston at home.
Lennon was able to recall a host of key men for the rematch with David Martindale’s Lions at the Tony Macaroni Arena but by then the Hoops’ fragile confidence was clear for all to see and they threw away another two points by allowing Jay Emmanuel-Thomas to rescue a point in a 2-2 draw.
Lennon insists he will not walk away from his job, but Elyounoussi is aware pressure is mounting on his boss.
“I feel really bad for the gaffer,” he said. “I think that we personally have to take more responsibility.
“It’s easy to criticise the gaffer. When things don’t go well they are coming for him. But if you look at him and the rest of the coaching staff they’re working really hard, day and night.
“That makes me really disappointed that we cannot turn it around for him and obviously the fans as well.
“He must be one of the strongest guys I have ever met. Of course we have belief in him.
“I think it is way too easy to just go for (Lennon) and say that we need a change. I think he does a really good job with the motivational speeches he gives us before and after games. He’s a strong guy and it’s way too easy to blame him.”
Elyounoussi netted his 13th goal of the season to cancel out Ciaron Brown’s opener for Livi. Nir Bitton then fired Celtic ahead at the break but yet again they could not finish off the job.
“I don’t mean any disrespect, but I don’t care about scoring a goal,” confessed Elyounoussi. “If you don’t win the games it doesn’t matter.
“Everyone has to take responsibility, look at themselves in the mirror. Everyone can improve, everyone can put more effort in.
“But I think everyone is working hard in training. You can see that from the intensity in training. We haven’t done anything differently this year from last year. I think it is just the small margins which are against us.
“There have been too many draws, too many games where we have been up and have conceded late on. That’s what’s killing us at the moment.”