NEIL LENNON admitted it was “fantastic” to see Leigh Griffiths make his first competitive appearance of 2019 for Celtic in the 2-1 win over FK Sarajevo at Parkhead last night.
The comeback Bhoy was given a special welcome by the home support when he replaced Odsonne Edouard in the 80th minute as the Hoops sealed a place in the second qualifying round of the Champions League with a 5-2 aggregate triumph.
Griffiths, 28, had not played a significant game since December last year after taking time out to deal with personal issues.
The affection in which he is held by the fans was obvious at the rousing reception that echoed around the ground.
A delighted Lennon, speaking to the Sunday Post, said: “It was fantastic, it should mean a lot to him.
“It’s great to see him back. He’s not fully there yet, but it’s step by step and he’s in a good place. We will give him more game time as we go along.
“He looked good on Saturday (against Rennes) for an hour and looked nice and sharp when he came on, so he’s hungry to play.
“He has missed a long time out and he’s worked really, really hard at the back end of last season on his own.
“And just to integrate himself with the boys again, I think he is getting a real kick out of that and looking now as if he’s going to make a significant contribution.”
CALLUM McGREGOR and Scott Brown were singled out for special praise by Neil Lennon after the 2-1 win over FK Sarajevo.
The Scotland international playmaker rifled in the winner 15 minutes from the end with a stunning left-foot 25-yard drive that exploded behind the Bosnian side’s heroic young keeper Vladan Kovacevic whose saves kept the scoreline respectable for the visitors.
Ryan Christie had put the hosts ahead before a slack pass from new Bhoy Boli Bolingoli gifted the equaliser for Benjamin Tatar just after the hour mark.
Lennon is now looking forward to Wednesday’s home first leg against Estonia’s Nomme Kalju.
The Irishman, speaking to the Sunday Post, admitted: “I’m delighted. An excellent performance against a very good side so early in the competition.
“You could see they were a week fitter as well as we were and I thought we played excellent, first-half especially.
“My only bugbear is conceding the goal. We were in total control. But Callum has come up with a brilliant goal to win the game and he was outstanding again, him and Scott Brown in the midfield.
“I’m absolutely delighted with what the players are giving me, that was a tough tie to negotiate.
“I’m delighted with the verve and attacking intent they played with.”
HATEM ABD ELHAMED, Hapoel Be’er Sheva defender, and Danny Simpson, released by Leicester City at the end of last season, could answer Celtic’s SOS for right-back reinforcements.
The 28-year-old Israeli has already agreed a switch in a transfer deal which will rise to £2.25million, according to media in his homeland.
And Premier League-winner Simpson, vastly experienced at 32, will train with the eight-in-a-row champions in a bid to earn a contract.
Kristoffer Ajer has started in the No.2 position in the Euro ties against FK Sarajevo with Scotland Under-21 star Anthony Ralston on the subs’ bench.
Celtic urgently require cover following the summer exits of Mikael Lustig, Cristian Gamboa and Jeremy Toljan.
Lennon, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “I think we’ll have something in the next few days hopefully. It might be a right-back, it might be a left-winger, it might be a centre-forward.
“Right-back is a priority, but we have a number of positions I’d like to strengthen like midfield and one or two attacking areas.
“You don’t want to overcook it, either, but we want to add to the quality in the squad that we already have.
“The boys are doing a brilliant job at the minute, but they could do with a little bit of help in terms of strength in depth.”
KIERAN TIERNEY could become a shock target for Spurs as rivals Arsenal struggle to put together a £25million package that would entice Celtic into parting witheir 22-year-old Scotland international defender.
The Gunners have failed in two bids in the past month and that has alerted their London foes, according to a report in The Scotsman.
It is claimed Mauricio Pochettino is looking at Tierney as a potential replacement for England left-back Danny Rose, who has stayed behind from the club’s pre-season tour of Asia in an effort to seal a deal elsewhere.
Serie A giants Napoli continue to monitor the situation.
NEW Bhoy Boli Bolingoli has vowed to improve following his Parkhead debut in the 2-1 Champions League qualifying win over FK Sarajevo.
The 24-year-old Belgian left-back, a £3million recruit from Rapid Vienna, was punished for a slack pass which led to the Bosnians’ equaliser – a mistake that wasn’t missed by Neil Lennon.
Bolingoli, speaking to STV, admitted: “I’m still learning. In my youth, I was always an offensive player and I’m still learning the defensive parts. I know that I still need to progress defensively.
“I know I have to do better. I’m a left-back, so the first thing is defending and my offensive qualities I have already, but I have to become a better defensive player.
“I’m still adapting and, hopefully, I can become a bigger player here.
“I think the tactics are perfect for me. I’m an offensive player and Celtic always play offensive and like to have the ball.
“I think in the future it will be better than this game.”
CELTIC have confirmed the second leg of their Champions League second round qualifier against Nomme Kalju will take place at the 15,000-capacity Estonian National stadium on July 30.
The European minnows’ home ground can hold only 700 and the tie has been moved to a more suitable venue to facilitate the expected demands from the fans to watch the action.
Neil Lennon’s men booked their spot in the next stage with a 5-2 aggregate victory over Bosnian double winner FK Sarajevo – with goals from Mikey Johnston, Odsonne Edouard and Scott Sinclair helping them to a 3-1 away triumph last week which was followed up with a 2-1 success in Glasgow last night with Ryan Christie and Callum McGregor on target.
The first leg against the Estonians issue at Parkhead on Wednesday.