JUBILANT Neil Lennon hopes Celtic’s hard-fought 3-2 win over Lille last night can be the springboard to success in a turbulent campaign.
The Hoops boss and his players have been on the receiving end of some ferocious criticism after a season that promised so much hovered on the brink of disaster.
The nine-in-a-row champions went into the final Europa League Group H encounter against the slick French outfit with nothing but pride to play for. They had blown their chances of qualifying much earlier with dreadful back-to-back 4-1 defeats against Sparta Prague and followed those losses with a 4-2 drubbing against AC Milan in the San Siro last week.
Lennon played a much-changed side with goalkeeper Conor Hazard making his debut, midfielder David Turnbull, who turned in a Man-of-the-Match display, making his European baptism and anchorman Ismail Soro making a rare appearance.
All three were such a success they have genuine claims to start in the crucial Premiership confrontation with Kilmarnock in the east end of Glasgow on Sunday.
The under-fire gaffer saw his team respond with a rousing performance against a side who had only been beaten once before this term, are sitting second top of La Liga two points adrift of Paris Saint-Germain and had already claimed a 3-0 win in Milan.
Turnbull was the matchwinner as Celtic should a lot of courage to come back twice to gain their victory. Christopher Jullien and Callum McGregor, with a penalty-kick, were their first-half scorers.
Lennon, speaking of the qualities of the Scotland Under-21 international to BT Sport, said: “He’s been excellent, he’s had coronavirus and that laid him up for quite a while, so it was just a question of being careful with him and obviously giving him some game time.
“He did really well when he came on against St Johnstone on Sunday and I thought he had an exceptional game on this occasion, not only his goal, but his all-round play was very good.
“We know what a good, talented player he is and, hopefully, now we’ll see the best of him going forward.”
Lennon continued: “There were a lot of bonuses, Soro, I thought, was excellent. David, Klimala, I thought young Henderson had a fine game, as well.
“It’s the first time Jullien and Duffy have played together and Connor Hazard in goal. So, there’s a lot of pluses tonight, no question.
“We’ll try to win on Sunday and get the mentality right, keep the spirit going. I’ve got a lot of belief, I think there’s a long way to go in the season.
“We’ve been off the boil for whatever reason, but there’s a good vibe about them at the minute, so I want to keep that going and get
“I think sometimes when you look at players and there’s a few of them who have a dip in form at the same time people say they’ve got a bad attitude or they don’t care.
“I don’t see that with these guys. Training was good yesterday and we got the desired result and performance.
“Hopefully, that will be a catalyst.”
Lennon also revealed that he had this match on his mind for Northern Ireland international net minder Hazard to make his competitive debut.
He added: “He’s been knocking on the door training-wise for a long time and I spoke to him maybe two weeks ago and said: ‘I want to give you an opportunity and we’ll probably look at the Lille game’.
“Not a big-pressure game, really, just too see how he adjusts.
“He was excellent, he made a really important save when we were 3-2 up and then great hands at the end of the cross.
“So, we’re delighted with the progress he’s making, he’s another one who’s knocking on the door.”