NEIL LENNON hailed Hampden hero Conor Hazard – and then told him he must IMPROVE!
The 22-year-old Northern Ireland international keeper started the season as third-choice in the pecking order behind £4.5million new Bhoy Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain.
However, with both failing to impress, Hazard got the nod from his manager to play against Lille in the meaningless Europa League Group H encounter and, after the club’s 3-2 win, kept the No.1 position in the 2-0 success over Kilmarnock at Parkhead last weekend.
Once again, Lennon backed the youngster when he named his line-up for yesterday’s Scottish Cup Final – and Hazard responded with two diving saves in the penalty-kick shoot-out as the holders triumphed 4-3 during sudden-death following a 3-3 extra-time stalemate.
The Parkhead gaffer was delighted for his countryman, but admitted he thought the rookie shotstopper should have saved two of the Edinburgh club’s goals.
Lennon, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “For Conor, it’s only his third senior game and he’s come up trumps with two fantastic saves.
“He should have done better with two of the goals, the second and third, and that’s something that we need to address.
“But he’s been training well and he is a good penalty saver and proved that on this occasion. He’s written his name down in the history of the club after only three games.
“But he’s got a lot to do and a lot more improving to do. However, he is a talent.”
Lennon also took the time to praise Kristoffer Ajer, who thumped in the decisive spot-kick, and relentless skipper Scott Brown.
He added: “I’m thrilled for Kris. He was cramping at the end and I told him he was taking one because we practised them yesterday and he was brilliant in practice.
“He was magnificent and I’m so happy for him.
“I thought Scott Brown did brilliant for the third goal and I was totally vindicated in starting him.
“He’s a real driving force and a great captain. I had no hesitation in playing him and I needed him out there. He earned the right to play in the Final.
“He had a great game and you could see his desire to get in at the third goal.”