THERE was a moment inside Celtic Park on Wednesday night when the 60,000 in attendance collectively held their breath as full-back Alistair Johnston clipped a switched pass to the left-hand side of the box towards Matt O’Riley. And assistant manager John Kennedy was no different on the touchline.

The Champions League match had ticked over into injury time with the score locked at 1-1 between the Scottish champions and Dutch counterparts Feyenoord. Having watched leads disintegrate at this stage of proceedings in their two previous Group E home matches against Atletico Madrid and Lazio, Kennedy was desperate to see his side snatch a late winner this time around to end a 10-year winless run in the competition at this venue, most of which he has witnessed first-hand.

The Herald: Matt O'Riley beats his markerMatt O'Riley beats his marker (Image: Getty)READ MORE: Brendan Rodgers will lead Celtic to Champions League progress

With an almost paradoxically deft first touch, the 6’2” midfielder glided past his marker into the penalty area, where he picked out Celtic substitute Gustaf Lagerbielke at the back post for the Swede to nod the ball into the net and send the crowd into raptures.

The sense of relief inside the Parkhead cauldron was palpable. But the Dane’s intervention should have come as no surprise to those who witnessed it.

Of the five goals scored by Brendan Rodgers’ side in Europe’s elite competition this season, O’Riley can be credited with an assist for three of them. His previous two for striker Kyogo Furuhashi’s goals against Atletico and Lazio were exquisite, and this perfectly placed lofted ball for Lagerbielke was every bit as good, especially considering the pressure of the moment.

Having added goals to his game this season as well, with nine notched already in the cinch Premiership, the 23-year-old former Fulham trainee will undoubtedly be a talking point amongst transfer committees at the top clubs in the biggest leagues in Europe.

Having signed for Celtic for a bargain price of £1.5m almost two years ago from MK Dons, O’Riley is the current poster boy of the club’s renowned development model and will no doubt be sold at a huge profit like other success stories before him such as Jota, Kieran Tierney and Odsonne Edouard. But how the Parkhead club will hope to hold onto their most prized asset, who only signed a new four-year deal in September, when the transfer window opens in a couple of weeks’ time.

The Herald: John Kennedy with manager Brendan RodgersJohn Kennedy with manager Brendan Rodgers (Image: SNS)READ MORE: Green Brigade take aim at Celtic board in 'Season's greetings' blast

Asked how crucial it is to keep O’Riley on their books next month, Kennedy said: “Yeah, it’s important. Obviously, we know the model we have in terms of recruitment.

“If the big fishes come in with big money, then obviously players might have the ambition to go and play in bigger leagues. We accept that.

“Matty has come in and progressed really well over the past couple of years. When players are attracting attention, it’s because things are going in the right direction for them.

“Behind that, we just need to make sure we’ve got the next player ready in line and keep bringing players through.

“It’s important that players look at guys like Matt, or Jota last year, Kieran Tierney and Odsonne Edouard before that, as inspiration.

“Don’t get me wrong, not everyone will do that and want to move. You also get guys like Callum McGregor, who will have had plenty of opportunities to move throughout his career, but he enjoys being here.

“Everyone is different. While the players are here, we give our all to them to help develop them and we expect the same level of commitment from them as well.”

At 23, O’Riley leads by example with his performances and has taken his attacking exploits to a new level since Rodgers took over in the summer. At the other end of the pitch, meanwhile, Kennedy was keen to stress the importance of Joe Hart’s steadying influence on the team as they return to Premiership action when they welcome Hearts to Celtic Park this afternoon.

Having taken some flak over his performances from certain quarters this season, the 36-year-old reminded supporters why he was once the England No.1 with a string of fine stops to keep the group’s top seeds at bay on Wednesday night.

The Herald: Joe Hart makes a stop against FeyenoordJoe Hart makes a stop against Feyenoord (Image: Getty)READ MORE: Celtic handed double injury boost ahead of Hearts clash this weekend

And, according to Kennedy, the veteran goalkeeper’s experience at the top level over many years rubs off on some of the younger players in the squad as they look to return to winning ways domestically following last weekend’s shock defeat at Kilmarnock.

“He’s been an important figure for us,” said Kennedy. “When he came in, in terms of not just his goalkeeping but his personality, the attitude and maturity he brought to the group because we were a young team.

“But everyone looked up to Joe with where he was at in his career, who he was, the respect he had straight away.

“He’s been an important figure. Him and Callum [McGregor], in terms of the dressing room, they are the guys who pretty much control that.

“So, in terms of going out there and putting in a performance like he did the other night, it was great for him because Joe is at an age now where he doesn’t know how many more of them he has, so it was really great for him to perform the way he did.”

Two players in line to return to action today following injury lay-offs are influential duo Daizen Maeda and Cameron Carter-Vickers. The latter’s presence has been noticeably absent at the heart of Celtic’s defence, not least as Kilmarnock imposed their physical approach in the second half at Rugby Park last weekend.

But Kennedy also points to another style of leadership from Japanese winger Maeda.

“People often associate leading with being the vocal one,” Kennedy said. “But that’s not the case. Leadership is basically around behaviour and behaviour can come in many shapes or forms. It can be vocal, it can be what you do in training, how you live your life.

“Everyone has a different way of doing it and the thing is to be natural with that. Daizen’s natural thing is to run and work really hard.

The Herald: Daizen Maeda is set to make returnDaizen Maeda is set to make return (Image: SNS)READ MORE: Scales delighted with Celtic Champions League honour after exit links

“If you watch him on the training pitch, we see it every day. You guys see it on matchdays, but when he does on a matchday, everyone talks about his work rate and running and everything else, but it’s because of what he puts in every day.

“He’s an inspiration to all the players because they appreciate what he brings and what he does. 

“He’s an important player for us and, in the time he’s been out, we’ve missed him. It’s good to have him back.

“In terms of stature, [Carter-Vickers is] a big figure. Again, he’s not a shouter, he’s not one in the dressing room you’ll hear a lot from.

“But, if we have small group meetings and stuff like that, he’s more than happy to front up, speak, give his opinion and guide the younger players.

“Again, how he trains and what he does on a matchday, that’s his version of leadership.

“He stands up there, he competes, puts the team in front of himself at all times and is a really important figure for us.”

Celtic showed on Wednesday night that they have the leadership in their ranks to respond to disappointment following last weekend’s first defeat of the Premiership season. If they wish to maintain their lead in the title race as New Year approaches, they will need to get back to winnings ways when they return to league action this afternoon.