Celtic boss Neil Lennon says Lassad Nouioui will be worth his wait in goals

LASSAD NOUIOUI can be Celtic's weapon-in-waiting as they set their sights on the decisive stages of the season.

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Lassad Nouioui played for 75 minutes and scored in Celtic's win over Hearts
Lassad Nouioui played for 75 minutes and scored in Celtic's win over Hearts

The Tunisian international scored his second goal for the club to begin the 4-0 rout of Hearts on Wednesday night at Tynecastle.

Lassad had opened his account against Aberdeen at Pittodrie two weeks earlier, and is hoping he can finally find the Parkhead net when the Hoops face Arbroath tomorrow in what would be the experienced striker's first taste of the William Hill Scottish Cup.

Neil Lennon believes that patience has been the key to unlocking Lassad's talent and latent goal threat.

Which is why, while the manager has certainly not been oblivious to the calls for the proven La Liga striker to get more game time, Lennon remains convinced that the softly-softly approach has not only been necessary, but vindicated.

A couple of niggly injuries, including a groin strain, has interfered with the progress to full fitness of the 27-year-old who was signed just as the transfer window was about to close at the end of August.

And Lennon explained: "We have been very impressed with Lassad, and he got 75 minutes on Wednesday, which is the longest he has played for us in any game since he arrived.

"People wanted us to throw him in early, but we have to be careful with him. In two of the games we did play him, he had to come off injured, and we lost him for two to three weeks each time.

"That's not because of the physicality of the league here or anything like that, but because he did not have a pre-season.

"He was out of contract at Deportivo La Coruna and he did not get signed up with us until deadline day.

"The change in environment in football has probably caused all of that. But hopefully we have found a balance now for Lassad."

With that integration almost complete, Lennon is expecting much, much more from the rangy Lassad, whose height and intelligence make him a conduit for play from back to front, and a perfect foil for main hitman, Gary Hooper, as was shown at Tynecastle.

However, Lassad has already shown that he can also put the ball away himself, when the chance presents itself.

His cool and clinical finish from Kris Commons' deep cross early in the game was the mark of man who has composure and technique.

Lennon refuses to engage in debate about just how many goals Lassad can contribute now that he is up and running, but did say with some satisfaction that he knows what he has got in him, and is confident it will pay dividends.

"He is a good finisher," is Lennon's summation. "I don't know how prolific he is going to be, but he has a nice touch and can link the play up very well."

While the other striker signed on deadline day, Miku, has struggled much more to come to terms with the style and demands of the game in this country, Lassad's improved fitness is now opening up the options for Lennon in terms of his striking formation.

With Georgios Samaras rested, and Anthony Stokes and James Forrest still on the injured list, the manager once again pushed Commons into a more advanced position against Hearts to create a trident effect rather than just have a single point to their attack, which previously was the preferred system for big away games.

This caused all sorts of problems for John McGlynn's side, and Lennon was delighted with the goal return which takes their strike rate on the road to 21 from just eight SPL games.

He reflected: "We missed an early chance with Kris, but they didn't let that affect them. You could just tell the quality of their play was a lot better.

"Commons was superb, Hooper was full of running and intent, and Lassad came in and was a nice buffer for the two of them."

With the midfield anchored superbly by Victor Wanyama, Beram Kayal and Joe Ledley, the platform for attacking was solid. This also allows the full-backs, Mikael Lustig and Charlie Mulgrew, to be heavily involved in the raids down the wings, and their contribution from start to finish against Hearts was telling and fruitful.

The Swede – who has already been on the mark for his country this season – was involved in the build-up to the second goal which eventually he finished off himself with a close-range shot from an area which, in open play, should be foreign territory to a full-back.

Not to be outdone, Mulgrew –who has dropped back into the left-back position after playing in midfield and central defence in recent weeks – popped up on the goal-line to force Ryan Stevenson to deflect his low cross into his own net for No.3, and sent in a superb cross for the final goal from Hooper.

On this form, Adam Matthews faces a real fight to hold on to his starting jersey, and Lennon is fulsome in his praise for the men in possession.

"I thought both full-backs were great against Hearts," said Lennon.

"Charlie looked a lot better. He was lot freer in his movement and his football than he has been for a while. In fact, his defending was excellent.

"Mikael has been great this season. He is a really good footballer. He has got great desire. He was one of our better players last weekend against Inverness, and has been really consistent for us for the past two or three months, and we have been delighted with him."

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