IT was a Celtic Park evening game during the Gordon Strachan era when Neil Lennon made some long-forgotten and tragically ignored piece of personal history.

He was caught offside.

This correspondent recalls this football miracle, if not the opposition which I'm guessing was Dunfermline for some reason, because the sight of Lennon bursting – okay jogging – from his usual position, past the back four, in a valiant if ultimately flawed bid to score a goal was something to see.

Lennon, in fairness, took his ribbing in the media room afterwards with good grace and self-aware humour.

The Celtic manager was an under-rated player. His first touch rivalled even Shunsuke Nakamura, he rarely wasted a pass and read the game to perfection. However, a Jimmy Johnstone type he was not.


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Lennon knows tactics and how to talk to players. But he would be kidding nobody, least of all his many charges who operate on either wing, if he were to stand in front of, say, Mikey Johnston and lecture the 20-year-old on the art of the dribble. He has Damien Duff for that.

The former Chelsea man, now a coach at Celtic, was a top-class old-fashioned winger in his day. It’s his job to talk to the ever-improving Johnston and James Forrest who has found an even high level of performance a season after he won almost every personal player of the year award.

Lennon said: “Mikey is still at the embryonic stage, you know, so he’s finding his experience at this level and his physicality as well. But I’m delighted with his progress and the start he’s made to the season.

“I’ve show faith in him but you have to. He has played in a lot of big games, which was the challenge we threw to Mikey at the start of the season. He started in the cup final, he started at Ibrox, and he did okay.

“We know there is more to come from him. He works with Damian most days and he’s quite tough on him but he responds in the right way. He is playing brilliantly at the minute. I’m delighted with him.

“It’s a real compliment to him that teams are doubling up on him at times.

“When I say Damian is hard, what I mean is they go over the clips and it’s really impressive to watch because Damian was a great player himself. It’s impressive to watch him speak to the young lads, just showing them little snippets to what they could better.

“Hey, he does praise them when he does well, so it’s not as if it’s all one-way. Damien does know what he’s talking about and that’s good…because I don’t.


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“Being a winger is a specialised position. I think, with wingers, you have to give them carte blanch. Let them make the decisions. With Jamesy, basically, we told him that when in the final third then be direct, get at people, and he’s having a stellar career.

“But it’s always good to get these little tit bits, particularly for someone so young and inexperienced in terms of what he can do better and what he is doing well. It’s always important to keep reminding of that as well.”

Forrest is now on 77 Celtic goals, five in his last five matches, including ten in European competition, an environment where he’s excelled.

Lennon gave the now 28-year-old his debut and has been there though good times and bad times of which a few years ago there were man. The booing of his name when read out before a match was a low point.

Lennon admitted: “I know what it’s like not to be everyone’s favourite! It speaks volumes for James’s character. He is so humble and quiet. He terrorises people on the pitch, he wants to hurt people and is a great finisher. There will be days when he’s not at his best but they are few and far between.

“He came through a rough period, bounced back, and the last three years has seen him playing some terrific football. James is a delight to watch at time.”

So, where does leave Scott Sinclair? A question being asked by many.


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Lennon admitted: “It has been difficult for Scott. We have a lot of options on the wings. Our wide men have been playing so well and we’ve been scoring goals. We look a threat. We have good pave in the team, something which Mikey brings to us.

“It’s understandable (if Sinclair feels put out). We don’t want to treat him badly because he’s a senior pro. It’s just that he’s finding it difficult right now to get into the squad. I can’t pick six wingers.”

Someone who is just about first pick right now is Ryan Christie who is a certain to start against Hearts at Celtic Park today.

What a player this man has turned out to be. Against AIK, the playmaker was everywhere. All the time.

Lennon said: "Ryan has been outstanding. His energy levels are incredible. He sets the tone for the rest of the team, I find. When the tempo is level, his energy is still very good. He’s got off to a great start with eight goals. The quality of his play is fantastic.

“The other night he chased the ball 50 yards which is sheer determination. That enthusiasm is something we see every day. It’s great to see that in player. He is bang in form, and a great thing about Ryan is he does the hard work and when you do that on a regular basis be it in training or matches, it’s not hard work anymore.


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Christie himself is in the best place of his career with the promise that there is more to come.

He admitted: "I do feel as if I’ve got a few extra per cent at the moment, which is down to the guys putting us in great condition in pre-season.

“It worked well for me that I came back from the injury and straight into pre-season to work hard.

“And I prefer it when the games come thing and fast just now because it gets you right up to speed.

“When you come into these games, the only thing you can absolutely guarantee is working hard and hopefully everything else follows from that."