FOR much his first season with Celtic, Efe Ambrose was teased gently about his friendship with Victor Wanyama.

Around Parkhead and Lennoxtown it was highly unusual to see one without the other at his side. They were close to the point of inseparability. So how could he now manage without his great mate? He laughed: "Victor left, but there are other Victors here . . ."

Celtic would not mind if there were. Wanyama joined Southampton for £12m and a few others in that price bracket would not go amiss. What Ambrose meant, of course, was that, although he remains in regular contact with Wanyama, he has found other friends at Celtic. The level of job satisfaction that he has at Parkhead was the main factor in his decision to sign the four-year contract extension announced by the club yesterday.

Ambrose joined from Israeli club Ashdod in the summer of 2012 on a three-year contract. He made a solid impression in his early months but views changed when he rushed back from helping Nigeria to win the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa only to have a very poor game against Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions League, being culpable for two of the goals in the Italians' 3-0 first-leg victory. But he recovered. He went on to finish the season strongly and he has been a growing influence in the side in the early weeks of the current campaign. Motherwell will appreciate that Ambrose and Dutch recruit Virgil van Dijk are a new but impressive central pairing for them to take on this afternoon.

"Juventus was hard," admitted Ambrose yesterday. "Sometimes these things happen. You get bad days in football. The most important thing is how you get out of it, how you stand up and fight back. When I get criticism I use that to step up and become a better player. I don't think about it. Nobody is perfect.

"I just want to get better. I want to improve from last season, individually and as a team player. I have always been confident in my game but the manager, the staff and players have given me more. I could not have done it without them. They have made me a better player."

Lennon enjoys the fact that both Van Dijk and Ambrose are prepared to carry the ball upfield. Although Ambrose's concentration and his heading occasionally let him down, his forays with the ball do give Celtic something different. "I know at times he takes a bit of a chance by taking the ball out from the back but I quite like that," said Lennon. "I think it's brave and his mistakes are becoming less and less apparent and less frequent. So there has been an obvious improvement in that side of his game. When teams are sitting back and camped in, he can break their lines with the ball and commit people and that gives us an advantage in our attacking play."

Ambrose regards advancing with the ball from the back as one of his main strengths. "Coming out of defence with the ball is a gift that God has given to me. The team understand how I play and how the manager wants me to play. Myself and Virgil can be a good partnership if we stay together. You never know what happens. Players come and go, but we are both here for a long time I think we can have good consistency and be a good partnership. We have played a couple of games together and it feels like we have played together for years."

"I've loved my time at Celtic. It's been incredible and signing a new contract was an easy decision to make. Coming to Celtic has changed everything for me. It's been a dream move and I never dreamt that I'd be at a club like this. Celtic gave me the opportunity to play at the highest level with one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Now I want to pay them back. Signing this contract is one of the ways to do that."

Celtic are also hoping to secure Joe Ledley and Georgios Samaras on longer deals. Both are out of contract at the end of the season and would be free to speak with other clubs from January. Samaras in particular showed his worth to the side in a strong performance against Barcelona. "Georgios is a great player and has been great for the club for quite a while," said Lennon. "He is quite unique in the way he plays so obviously we'd like to get him tied down for a considerable period of time. He likes it here, he's happy here and the fans love him which is testament to him for the way he has turned his career around. I like that in a player, he's shown an abundance of character.

"He's a threat. He might not be a prolific goalscorer at that level but there's not many who are, and, if he was, then he'd be playing elsewhere. But what he gives the team is an out-ball, the ability to eliminate people with his pace and power. He is the quintessential modern-day player."

Celtic against Motherwell amounts to second against third this afternoon, while leaders Inverness Caledonian Thistle simultaneously take on St Johnstone in Perth. Both Celtic and Inverness are on 19 points, with the Highlanders top by one on goal difference, albeit the defending champions have a game in hand.

Samaras has a knock which means he is a doubt for today's game, while Ledley, Derk Boerrigter and Tom Rogic are out. James Forrest should be able to play 90 minutes if required, but Nir Biton is a doubt after suffering from a virus.