STEPHEN WELSH has thanked Neil Lennon for his faith in his ability and revealed “he can’t thank him enough” for what he has done to launch his Celtic career.

The 21-year-old defender was introduced to the first team in a 4-1 win at Hamilton Accies just over a year ago and he made his second appearance against Steven Gerrard’s side in October at Parkhead where hings didn’t quit go according to plan in a tame 2-0 loss.

But Welsh was one of the players to get passmarks from the Irishman and kept his place for the Europa League Group H encounter against AC Milan in Glasgow five days later.

The youngster has now been pitched into central defence alongside Kristoffer Ajer with Christopher Jullien out with a long-term knee injury. Shane Duffy has clearly toiled since his £2million loan arrival from Brighton which has meant the youngster standing up to the plate in a difficult and disappointing campaign.

Lennon ended his two-year second stint as Hoops boss last week when he departed a couple of days after the rock-bottom 1-0 defeat to Ross County in Dingwall, the champions’ fourth league loss of the season.

HEAD BHOY…Stephen Welsh clears a Ross County attack.

But Welsh will never forget what the former boss did for him and said: “I will always have a lot to owe the old gaffer. He gave me my debut, my derby debut and my European debut.

“I can’t thank him enough for that and what he did for me. As a footballer, all you want is someone to trust you and give you a chance. That’s what he did for me.

“It’s all part of the learning curve for me and it’s been a difficult week for everyone at the club. It’s never nice to see a manager leave and, personally, you feel a wee bit of responsibility for that.

“The performances on the pitch haven’t been good enough and that is why it has happened.”

John Kennedy, of course, has taken over the role in an interim capacity and celebrated his first game in charge with the 1-0 victory over Aberdeen at Parkhead on Saturday.

Stephen McManus has also stepped up from his reserve-team duties and, coincidentally, both made their names as uncompromising centre-backs.

Welsh, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “We are moving on now with Kendo and we are trying to get results.

BEST FOOT FORWARD…Stephen Welsh clears his lines against St Mirren.

”My first experience of working with him was when I first came to train with the first team, maybe four years ago, but he’s been a big help all the way through from that day and he’s a great coach.

“As a former defender, I know he can help me a lot and he already has. I don’t remember Kendo playing for Celtic. I’m only 21, but my dad has told me a lot about him and said he was a top player and would have done big things, but I know he was unfortunate with injuries.

“But he’s put all that experience into being a coach now and I think it’s worked out well for him. Stephen is also up with the first team and he was my reserves coach.

“Both of them played central defence for Celtic at a really high level, so that’s great for me as a young player. It’s a very familiar set-up for me and I find it easy to go and talk to them about things.

“Likewise, they know me and that probably helps when it comes to coaching.”

Reflecting on the success over the Dons where an eighth-minute deflected effort from Odsonne Edouard settled the issue, Welsh added: “It was a good win for us and I thought we were excellent in the first-half. We played the way we know that we can. We kept the ball and we were patient.

“We got the goal and I felt we could have scored two or three with our play. In the second-half, it was the same as the last game against Aberdeen.

“They pressed really high and they did it very well. When it gets to the last 15 minutes and they are chasing an equaliser, they throw balls into the box.

“But I thought we dealt with that really well and it was good to get the clean sheet.”

Welsh and Man-of-the Match Ajer are likely to team up again when Celtic travel to Tannadice for their High Noon kick-off against Dundee United on Sunday.


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