NEIL Lennon said last night he is relaxed about Gary Hooper's failure as yet to sign a new contract with Celtic, despite renewed speculation linking the striker with a move back to England.
Sunderland are the latest Barclays Premier League club said to be interested in the 24-year-old, but Lennon, who hopes to field Hooper in the home Champions League match against Spartak Moscow on Wednesday night, confirmed talks with the player are ongoing.
"We've made him an offer and we're waiting for his representative to get back to us," the manager said. "It's a good offer. I think he's happy here. He hasn't given me any indication that he's not and he hasn't given any indication that there are other suitors."
Lennon, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the faster than expected return to full fitness of Emilio Izaguirre after a hamstring injury. If Izaguirre comes through the William Hill Scottish Cup fourth- round tie with Arbroath this afternoon unscathed, he has a chance of being involved in the Spartak game.
"We felt he would be out for six weeks on the initial diagnosis so he has made a great recovery," Lennon said. "He is looking lively in training. His timing is impeccable and we are pleased to have him back. If he gets some game time against Arbroath and comes through it okay, he'll have a realistic chance of playing against Spartak."
Lennon will rest several key first-team players this afternoon, including Fraser Forster and Kelvin Wilson. Among the fringe players who could be given an outing are Lukasz Zaluska, Thomas Rogne and Dylan McGeouch. However, having watched his side struggle at home this season – they have taken just nine out of a possible 21 points in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League – Lennon will field a number of regulars.
"We'll have a strong team out," he said. "We will have [Victor] Wanyama, Hooper, Lassad [Nouioui] and [Adam] Matthews in the squad. We have an obligation to the fans and obligation to Arbroath to do that. I do not want to take them lightly. I don't want anybody thinking we are taking this game or the competition lightly. We have to get it right at home and with a bit of freshness coming into the team will maybe perk it up a little bit.
"I'm hoping we can shake that monkey off our back and get back to winning ways at home. There's no reason why we can't. Our home form over the last 10 years has been pretty good so I think we're just in a short-term lull."
Lennon has also admitted that, despite Celtic's relative success in Europe, he will endeavour to add to his squad during January. "We're always looking to improve and will look at a couple of positions if we can to try to enhance the squad," he said. "That's if the players we like become available and are affordable."
The supporter who became embroiled in a heated exchange of views with Lennon at the end of last weekend's 1-0 defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle turned up at Parkhead this week to apologise and the manager stressed the issue is in the past. "We've dealt with it," he said "There will be no problem when I go to the dug-out."