OLIVIER NTCHAM’S schemes and dreams have shot skywards since his dramatic and historic stoppage-time winner over Lazio in Rome earlier this month.

The French powerhouse ensured Celtic’s first triumph on Italian soil at the 13th attempt when he deftly lifted the ball over the stranded keeper for the second goal in the 2-1 victory.

Ntcham’s memorable effort also opened the door to the Europa League knock-out stages next year with two games still to play in Group E.

The 23-year-old midfielder, bought by Brendan Rodgers from Manchester City for £4.5million in the summer of 2017, is likely to get a starting position this evening against Rennes at Parkhead before the Hoops wrap up the section with a trip to Romania to face Cluj on December 12 – only four days after the Betfred League Cup Final against Steven Gerrard’s Ibrox outfit.

There has been a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of Ntcham in recent times following reports in July in French sports journal L’Equipe when he was quoted as saying he had been “disappointed” that interest from Porto last season hadn’t gone further while admitting he was flattered by links with Marseille.

Boss Neil Lennon believes his late strike in the Italian capital has dramatically altered his mindset.

The Irishman, speaking to the Evening Times, said: “The goal in Rome may just have changed his whole outlook on things. He is happy to be a part of it.

“I saw a difference in him even before Rome. We had a chat about his comments earlier in the season, whether they were misconstrued, there may have been some truth in them.

“But he has really settled down now and he is training very well. He has played brilliantly in the games he has played. He’s been unfortunate not to play more often, that’s just down to the quality of the rest.

“The way he is seeing things now, he might feel: ‘Why shouldn’t I stay here?’. Things are going well. We’ve beaten Lazio away from home and he played a huge part in that. Maybe that makes him think the grass isn’t always greener and he can fulfil a lot of things at Celtic for whatever length of time he is here.”

Lennon added: “He is some player, really high calibre in his manipulation of the ball. We are seeing more consistency from him now, when previously he was more up and down.

“Certainly, on the ball he has fantastic technique and he works hard at that. Going the other way defensively, he is improving that aspect, as well.

“He and Odsonne Edouard have a really good understanding on the pitch and they are quite close away from the club, too. They are two very creative, penetrating players. I think they like playing in the same team.

“I think he sees that he has to work harder at times. I think he’s doing that a lot better now. There’s more diligence in his defensive play. He’s a strong boy. Physically, he’s a specimen.”

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v Rennes this evening – only in your champion CQN.



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