JOHNNY RUSSELL, the Dundee United striker, is in full agreement with his manager Peter Houston that he still has much to learn about the game.

It transpires, though, that diplomatically fielding questions on his future is not an area on which he has to improve.

With a William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final against Celtic looming on Sunday, Russell again impressed the watching Neil Lennon, an open admirer of the United player, with a sublime individual goal and enterprising all-round performance in Monday night's 3-0 win over Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

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Lennon enquired in January about Russell's availability and was given no encouragement by the United hierarchy. The Celtic manager may renew his interest in the summer but Houston believes his prized asset "is not ready" for Celtic and should postpone his inevitable departure for another 18 months. That message seems to have sunk in.

Russell said all the right things when asked about his thoughts on Celtic's interest and seemed completely genuine. Houston's advice is sound, but Russell only needs to look at peers such as Danny Wilson, currently on loan at Blackpool from Liverpool, to understand the dangers of moving too soon.

"I just want to concentrate on Dundee United and what I'm doing here," he said. "Of course it [Celtic's interest] was flattering. It always is when people say good things and show interest, but I want to stay at Dundee United. It's the best place for me to develop. I'm a young boy and I have a lot to learn. I want to do it here."

Russell is cruising through his Tannadice apprenticeship. The 21-year-old has emerged as an effective replacement for David Goodwillie and showcased his dancing feet with United's third against the Highlanders.

"It's one of the best I've scored and it was pleasing individually," he said. "When thing aren't going your way, sometimes you try too hard and things don't come off. I'm just glad it did this time."

Houston, however, can be a hard man to please. He felt United did not do themselves justice against Inverness but lauded a six-game unbeaten run that has allowed them to leapfrog Hearts and St Johnstone into fourth place in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. During that period, United have scored 15 goals and conceded just two. However, with Motherwell 11 points ahead in third, fourth is likely to be United's limit.

"I don't know about if we can catch Motherwell," said Russell, who now sits on 12 goals for the season. "Our form earlier in the season let us down and we are playing catch-up now. Motherwell might be a bit too far ahead of us, but you never know.

"We are on a great run and we owe that to the defence. They have been brilliant in the last five or six games and if you keep clean sheets, you always have a chance. We haven't scored too many goals at home this season but in the past few games we have turned it around. Long may that continue."

Motherwell will remain a dot on the horizon for the time being, but Russell will now turn his attention to Celtic and Sunday's cup tie between the tournament's past two winners. United, as Houston openly admitted, are massive underdogs against Lennon's powerful side, but Russell believes they can end Celtic's treble challenge.

"We will go into the game with the belief that we can get the win," he said. "Celtic are favourites but hopefully we can cause an upset. We beat Rangers in the last round so hopefully we can pull off another big win again."