THE rumblings of discontent started with that Champions League humiliation against Ferencvaros way back in August.

There were many among the Celtic support who were keen to see a change in the dugout in October when Rangers cruised to a 2-0 victory at Parkhead and moved four points clear in the Premiership.

The number of supporters to turn against Neil Lennon grew considerably as Sparta Prague romped to back-to-back 4-1 wins in the Europa League group stages in November.

The Betfred Cup exit at the hands of struggling Ross County that followed the second of those heavy defeats sparked a violent protest outside Celtic Park and led to deafening calls for the manager to be sacked.

When the defending Scottish champions then failed to beat St Johnstone in Glasgow at the start of December and fell 13 points off top spot in the league table it was very hard to see how the Northern Irishman could survive.

But throughout it all, the social media storms, the threatening banners, the missile throwing, the ugly scuffles with police, the attack on the team bus, the marches on the ground, the Celtic board held firm and stood by their man.

Will those directors, who last month stated they would review Lennon’s situation “in the new year” after they had given him his second vote of confidence in seven days, be prepared to back him if, as now looks inevitable, he fails to deliver 10-In-A-Row?

Arithmetically, Celtic can still catch and overtake their city rivals. They are 19 points behind following their cruel 1-0 loss at Ibrox on Saturday. But they still have three games in hand and two Old Firm matches to play. Triumph in all of them and they will be four adrift. The runaway leaders, too, could slip up. They have done so in the last two years.

But it is all ifs, buts and maybes. It is asking an awful lot of a side whose performances in the 2020/21 campaign have so often fallen short of what is required even if they have shown signs of improvement of late. Can they prevail in the midweek games they face on the artificial turf at Livingston and Kilmarnock in the coming weeks?

The loss of Christopher Jullien, who is set to be sidelined for up to four months, won’t help their cause even if back-up arrives for Kristoffer Ajer, Nir Bitton and Shane Duffy during the January transfer window.

The performance by the visitors in Govan should also buy Lennon some time. Celtic were the better team over the course of the 90 minutes, were repeatedly denied by opposition ‘keeper Allan McGregor, fell behind to an own goal and prevented their hosts from getting a single shot on target. It was, despite the narrow reverse they suffered, further evidence they are moving forward.

It is unlikely that chief executive Peter Lawwell and major shareholder Dermot Desmond will make any decision imminently. Not while there is still some, albeit slim, hope remaining.

The support shown to their manager is rare in the modern day game. To take into account the factors that had led to the slump in form - match cancellations, injuries to important players, the absence of fans, the poor form of the new signings and positive coronavirus tests – was commendable in the circumstances.

Many club hierarchies would have been only too happy to wield the axe and deflect attention away from themselves.

However, if the quadruple treble winners’ long reign as Premiership champions does come to an end then the mood music will quickly change.

It is all very well standing behind your manager when the season ticket money is safely in the bank. But will the bean counters be prepared to do so when they are asking their paying customers to renew for next term?

The Covid-19 pandemic has created financial problems for every football club and Celtic aren’t immune to them. Can they risk disgruntled punters refusing, even with a lengthy wating list, to stump up due to unhappiness about the direction the team is heading?

A fair few will be unwilling to pay if there is no guarantee of getting into games as it is. There were demands for refunds last month.

The success that Lennon had enjoyed after replacing Brendan Rodgers back in 2019 – he won all four domestic competitions that Celtic were involved in – was considered when the clamour for him to be replaced reached its peak. He was certainly deserving of some loyalty.

He has since overseen a record fourth consecutive clean sweep of silverware with a penalty shoot-out victory over Hearts in the rescheduled Scottish Cup final at Hampden.

However, falling short in the Premiership this season will, after the failure to qualify for the Champions League, poor displays in the Europa League and that Betfred Cup disappointment, surely bring an end to his second spell as manager.

Neil Lennon’s own future, not just the chance to make history by doing 10-In-A-Row, hangs in the balance.