After nine months in charge of Celtic, Tony Mowbray yesterday left his position by "mutual consent". For most of his time at the club, he seemed lost to a deep angst and there was an inevitability to his departure.
With Rangers holding a dominant lead at the top of the Premier League, and following a 4-0 defeat to St Mirren on Wednesday night that was a nadir, his position was no longer tenable. Results dictated his exit. Mowbray's team lost to Dundee United, Hearts, Hibernian, Kilmarnock and then St Mirren this season, as well as suffering two defeats and a draw to Rangers, while their Old Firm rivals have only one league defeat to their name. The contrast is stark and Mowbray never seemed in command of a job that requires a profound authority.
"This is a very sad day," said Celtic chief-executive Peter Lawwell. "We have had a difficult season and results have not been as we would have hoped. Tony is equally disappointed and I am sure he will always be highly thought of within the Celtic family."
Mowbray is followed out of Celtic Park by his assistant, Mark Venus, and coach, Peter Grant, while Neil Lennon, the reserve team manager, will take charge of the team for Saturday's meeting with Kilmarnock. Despite the title being essentially out of reach – Rangers are 10 points ahead, with two games in hand – Celtic face Ross County in the Scottish Cup semi-final next month. It is a last chance to redeem a season of growing despair.
The 4-0 loss to St Mirren was the final indignity. It represented an affront that carried historical distinction: outwith Old Firm games, it was Celtic's worst league defeat in 30 years, and St Mirren's biggest victory over the Parkhead side in 51 years. Within 24 hours, Mowbray's time in charge was over.
The former West Bromwich Albion manager never seemed comfortable at the club, despite having spent four years as a Celtic player. When he arrived as Gordon Strachan's successor last June, he talked of his principles, of creating a side that would be an expression of style and attacking grace. But results were never persuasive and his relationship with the media became more strained with every defeat.
"Rangers set up differently, maybe that's the way to go," Mowbray said on Wednesday night. "Maybe it isn't a league for trying to be expansive, maybe it's for playing defensive, negative football."
Mowbray is a romantic, with a narrow, idealistic view of the game. But the squad he inherited lacked the wherewithal to perform to his vision, and he criticised the players' abilities, a comment that angered many in the dressing room.
With every setback, Mowbray retreated further into his malaise. The transfer window was supposed to provide rejuvenation, with Robbie Keane arriving on loan from Tottenham, but the failure to sign an experienced, dominant centre-back contributed to the team's frailties. Mowbray's departure yesterday seemed like an act of compassion.
Unlucky for some: Mowbray's final run
Mowbray's last 13 league games:
3 Jan: Rangers (h). Drew 1-1
16 Jan: Falkirk (h). Drew 1-1
24 Jan: St Johnstone (a). Won 4-1
27 Jan: Hibernian (h). Lost 2-1
30 Jan: Hamilton (a). Won 1-0
2 Feb: Kilmarnock (a). Lost 1-0
10 Feb: Hearts (h). Won 2-0
13 Feb: Aberdeen (a). Drew 4-4
20 Feb: Dundee United (h). Won 1-0
28 Feb: Rangers (a). Lost 1-0
7 Mar: Falkirk (a). Won 2-0
20 Mar: St Johnstone (h). Won 3-0
24 Mar: St Mirren (a). Lost 4-0