CELTIC legend Davie Hay reckons Neil Lennon has answered the doubters with the historic Europa League Group E triumph over Lazio on Thursday night.
The comeback gaffer had still to convince a few sceptics when he answered the Hoops’ SOS in February only hours after Brendan Rodgers’ swift departure to Leicester City.
However, former manager and player Hay, now a club ambassador, immediately backed the Irishman’s return and went public with his assertions.
Lennon moved a long way to emphasising his credentials for the post with the triumph at the Olympic Stadium and it also highlighted his unbeaten run away from Europe in this campaign, although, of course, the stumble against Cluj in the Champions League qualifiers at Parkhead brought dire consequences.
Hay, writing in his Evening Times column, said: “What a night it was for everyone associated with Celtic in Rome and what a wonderful achievement by this group of players and by Neil Lennon, too.
“Regular readers will know that I have long been a supporter of his appointment as Celtic manager following the departure of Brendan Rodgers and I don’t think there will be too many Celtic fans out there now who would doubt he was the right man for the job.
“You could have misgivings about the way it all came about in the aftermath of the Scottish Cup Final, but, despite appearances, I never thought it was a hasty decision. He was chosen for a reason – and now he is showing why.
“It may be hard to believe that the win over Lazio was Celtic’s first victory in Italy on their 13th attempt, although they have, of course, beaten Italian opposition on foreign soil before, but I know from my own experience how difficult it is to win there.
“I played against Fiorentina in 1970 and we were beaten 1-0, although we travelled to Italy with a 3-0 advantage from the first leg at Celtic Park, so we still went through pretty comfortably.
“But so many great Celtic sides have gone there and been beaten and, while some people might say that this current Lazio side aren’t up there with the very best Italian teams, they are still a huge club and it is a huge feather in the cap of Celtic to have now beaten them home and away.
“And, despite the fact they got last-minute goals to beat Lazio in both games, there was nothing lucky about either of the victories in my book.”
Hay added: “The goals themselves were of the highest quality, too. Not a lot of people are talking about James Forrest’s goal because of the dramatic finale to the game, but it just seems accepted now that he is going to produce these big moments on the big occasion. He took his goal brilliantly and he has become such an integral player for this team.
“What a finish, too, by Olivier Ntcham. To keep his cool under that pressure was really impressive and, although I thought he had taken the ball a little wide initially with his first touch, the second touch was sublime.
“Ntcham said after the match that he sees no reason why Celtic can’t now go on and win the tournament and, while that is still a long way away, it might not be as outlandish as it seems.
“Everyone knows what Celtic Park can do for the side in terms of home advantage and they really used that to good effect when beating Lazio a couple of weeks ago. What perhaps wasn’t expected, though, was their form away from home on the continent this season which has been so impressive.
“Going on the road in these competitions has been an Achilles Heel for Celtic for longer than any of us care to remember, but Neil Lennon seems to have found the perfect balance between defending and attacking that has allowed them to pick up some great results.
“That is now six games unbeaten away from home in Europe this season and when a team has a home fortress like Celtic do and can marry that up with a knack of getting results away, then it is the perfect formula to go far in European competition.”
Lennon will now switch his focus back to points-gathering in the Premiership when Motherwell visit Parkhead tomorrow afternoon.