THE old goalkeeping cliché of the ‘gloves being his until he does something wrong’ has rather been flipped on its head at Celtic this season, with Neil Lennon still waiting on somebody to perform competently for a few games on the bounce.

Trouble is, as any keeper will tell you, without a consistent run in the team it is difficult to find any consistency in your game. And so it was that we had the strange situation of the Celtic manager opting to change his keeper yet again when they took on Hamilton on Wednesday night.

What made the decision to drop £5m summer signing Vasilis Barkas to the bench a head-scratcher wasn’t so much down to the Greek’s form, which has been average at best even viewed through the most generous prism, but Lennon’s declaration barely a month ago that Barkas had been brought to Celtic as his number one, and that he wanted him to play.

"It’s time for him to show all the experience and quality he has,” said Lennon at the time, but after two appearances in the intervening period, he has apparently seen enough.

The case of Barkas is a strange one. He’s not exactly flapping at crosses and chucking in goals, but he isn’t exactly inspiring confidence either. But again, how does a player exude confidence when his manager clearly and publicly has so little confidence in his abilities? And what exactly did he do wrong in the defeat to Rangers and the draw against Livingston to merit his exclusion once more?

The single goal he lost at Ibrox owed more to bad luck than bad goalkeeping, the ball ricocheting off the shoulder of Callum McGregor from a corner and into the net. And he was left badly exposed by the porous defence in front of him for Livingston’s two goals in the 2-2 draw at the Tony Macaroni Arena, with neither goal falling into the ‘keeper should have done better’ category.

Lennon can’t catch a break with the Celtic support at the moment, and almost every call he makes is subject to vehement criticism, but when you have a goalkeeper who is suffering from a lack of belief and struggling to settle into a new country under these extraordinary circumstances, perhaps an arm round the shoulder rather than a hook round the neck would be appropriate. Particularly when you’ve shelled out £5m on said keeper, and presumably want to eventually have him as your number one, or at the very least recoup some of the money you splashed out on him.

The inconsistencies in Lennon’s rhetoric about Celtic’s goalkeeping situation mirror the inconsistencies in his team selection over the season, and a reasonable argument can be made that their relative defensive frailties this term stem from an inability to settle on preferred personnel either in goal or anywhere across the backline.

Across the city, you know that all being well, Rangers will line up with Allan McGregor in goal, James Tavernier at right-back, Connor Goldson and Filip Helander in the middle and Borna Barisic on the left. Jon McLaughlin and Leon Balogun may dip in and out now and again as injuries dictate or when rest is required, but those five can pretty much be banked on as Steven Gerrard’s go-to defensive unit.

At Celtic? Who knows. You can’t even bank on the system being a back three or a four.

The shift to a 4-4-2 diamond of late will presumably continue, so centre-half Kristoffer Ajer will play at right-back now that Jeremie Frimpong has left the building, but those two and the homesick Hatem Elhamed have been in and out of the role all season.

The injury to Christopher Jullien has been unfortunate, as have Covid-19 related disruptions, but even before the Frenchman was sidelined you couldn’t hang your hat on who would make up the centre of the defence. The hugely disappointing Shane Duffy, midfielder-cum-defender Nir Bitton and youngster Stephen Welsh have all had outings there.

On the left, Diego Laxalt has been brought in on loan from AC Milan, but Greg Taylor has been at least as impressive - arguably more so - and it is difficult to predict which of the two will play one week to the next.

The net result is that Celtic have shipped 18 goals this season to Rangers’ seven, and their title hopes have evaporated before January is out as a consequence.

The Celtic players and staff may be saying all the right things publicly about not giving up this season, but with even Lennon admitting that the league title may be beyond them, should thoughts not now be turning immediately to what can be done to rectify things in time for the next campaign?

With Lennon in position for the timebeing though and long odds being offered against him still being in the dugout beyond May, Celtic looked to have backed themselves into a corner. The manager may have decided that if he is going down, he is going down by ploughing his own path, even if that means playing Scott Bain ahead of the club’s big-money investment.

Between Barkas, the £4.5m Albian Ajeti and the £3.5m Patryk Klimala, Celtic currently have more expensive artefacts gathering dust than the British Museum. With just the Scottish Cup to play for, the only other thing this season offers is the opportunity to see if these players can contribute in the longer term by giving them a run in the side.

The Ten is gone. It is time for Celtic to move on.