WITH less than 40 minutes of this exhilarating duel at Hampden remaining on the clock, Neil Lennon was facing the prospect not just of Celtic’s unprecedented winning run coming crashing to an end, but also of another manager being brought in to replace him.

His team, who had struggled to break down a Hearts side which had performed far better than even their most optimistic supporter had dreamed before kick-off, was losing 1-0 and in very real danger being defeated in the game.

The Parkhead club could still theoretically have appointed the man who took over from Brendan Rodgers on an interim basis back in February permanently after a defeat.

He had, with Kieran Tierney and a raft of other first team regulars out, hardly had his strongest side on the park. Those who had been selected looked spent at the end of a long, hard campaign.

But retaining the services of the coach who had failed to deliver the treble treble would have been a hard sell indeed; many supporters were dead against the Northern Irishman being kept on before the final as it was.

Yet, his charges fought back gutsily to triumph 2-1, become the first club in the history of Scottish football to complete clean sweeps of domestic silverware three years running and, at the same time, ensure the man in charge area is kept on beyond the summer.

The penalty that Odsonne Edouard won was definitely of the soft variety and the second that the Celtic striker - a steal at £9 million last year and a deserved winner of the Man of the Match award at the end of the 90 minutes – netted was the result of a defensive lapse by Hearts captain Christophe Berra.

Still, this game showed that the Glasgow club’s players will battle to the death for their manager. It also, too, increased the backing for the man who spent a highly-successful spell at the helm of his boyhood heroes once before. “There’s only one Neil Lennon,” rang out inside the famous old ground long after the final whistle.

The Celtic hierarchy - chief executive Peter Lawwell, major shareholder Dermot Desmond, chairman Iain Bankier and non-executive director Tom Allison - acted quickly after the match. Lennon, drenched in champagne, was offered the position in the dressing room.

Lawwell was adamant that had Celtic come up short that Lennon would still have been given the chance to lead them to Nine-In-A-Row. But this narrow win certainly made that easier and increased the likelihood of him being accepted by a notoriously fickle support.

The 47-year-old will head off to Marbella in Spain on Monday to help his friend celebrate his 50th birthday and down a few well-earned beers. His future will be settled on his return.

Hearts have won few admirers for the attractiveness of their play under Craig Levein and during their poor run of form towards the end of the season many of their followers had grown unhappy with the dire fare they were being served up. There had been calls for the manager to be replaced.

The Tynecastle club’s fans, though, would have been content with what they saw in the opening 45 minutes here even if they created little if anything in the way of scoring chances. They contained their opponents brilliantly, forced them out wide and dealt comfortably with any ball which was swung into their penalty box.

Aaron Hickey tried his luck from long-range. Sean Clare had a header easily held by Scott Bain. At the other end of the park, John Souttar blocked an Odsonne Edouard attempt. It didn’t make for an especially entertaining spectacle. Still, the one-sided encounter that so many had expected failed to materialise.

There was more incident in the stands than on the field of play at times. A squad of police were despatched to the upper tier of the main stand towards the end of the first-half when trouble flared. Some Celtic fans who had infiltrated the Hearts support in the hope of seeing his side make history? If it was it proved worth the risk.

Shelley Kerr, the Scotland women’s team coach whose side will head off for their first World Cup in France soon, and Steve Clarke, her male counterpart, were in attendance. Neither would have been heartened about the future of the game in this country by what they witnessed.

You couldn’t, however, argue about the effectiveness of Levein’s tactics when Ryan Edwards, after good work by Hickey, Arnaud Djoum and Clare, put the underdogs in front early in the second-half.

Hickey may not have been the youngest player ever to feature in the Scottish Cup final. John Fleck, who played for Rangers against Queen of the South back in 2008, can still lay claim to that distinction. Nevertheless, the slight left back, who turns 17 next month, had an excellent game. He has a big future ahead of him.

So, too, does Neil Lennon at Celtic after this tense but ultimately glorious and important Scottish Cup final win.