Celtic debut for Liam shows that Lenny will blood cubs

CELTIC has always been a club that gives youth its chance - a flick through the history pages will tell you that.

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Liam Henderson made way for Beram Kayal at Kilmarnock but the Israeli star knows he has a tough task to win back his place in the Hoops midfield
Liam Henderson made way for Beram Kayal at Kilmarnock but the Israeli star knows he has a tough task to win back his place in the Hoops midfield

Jock Stein always stood by the mantra that if you're good enough you're old enough and Neil Lennon has followed that example to the letter.

So it was great to see Liam Henderson make his full first team debut against Kilmarnock the other night.

And by all accounts he may be the first of a few of the emerging talents at Celtic Park to make the breakthrough into the first team over the final nine games of the season.

Liam looked very comfortable against Killie and clearly has an array of talents at his feet.

The ultimate proof of any youth academy is how many kids can make their mark with the first team.

I know how hard the youth coaches work at Celtic Park and Chris McCart, Tommy McIntyre and John Kennedy, will be delighted that the manager is so keen to give their lads an opportunity at first team level.

Neil cut his own teeth at youth and reserve level with Celtic and will appreciate as much as any Celtic manager how important it is to test the younger lads out where possible in the hothouse of the first team.

But that is the problem for any Old Firm manager. You are judged by your results and there is an endless pressure to win every match, so a fine balancing act is required.

Yet Neil has already shown a desire to give youth its chance, as he demonstrated by blooding the versatile young defender Darnell Fisher when injuries robbed Celtic of the services of Mikael Lustig and Adam Matthews.

Which means some of them will get their chance sooner rather than later because the fact is that if Celtic beat St Mirren tomorrow they are almost certain to win the title at Firhill against Partick on Wednesday or at home against Ross County next Saturday.

That raises the possibility of Celtic being crowned champions with either seven games left to play or at worst six. That will leave an awful lot of game time for Neil to blood more kids - if they are ready.

The other aspect of this is that when the title is wrapped up it will be time for the manager to cut some of his most important players some extra slack to allow them to start re-charging ahead of the Champions League qualification process which will start in mid July for Celtic.

All of that for me points to a few other fresh faces from the club's outstanding youth academy being given their chance over the closing weeks of the season.

At the opposite end of the spectrum we have Beram Kayal, who ironically enough, replaced Henderson at Kilmarnock.

When he first burst on the scene with Celtic I thought he was a player who could go on to have a major impact at the club but Beram's progress has been badly disrupted by injury and that is a great shame.

It is amazing to think back to 2011 and recall that the Israeli international deputised for Scott Brown as skipper when the latter was injured.

Since these days Kayal has suffered a succession of cruel injuries and almost all of them have been, bizarrely, fractures.

Now he has begun his latest comeback after recovering from the foot fracture he suffered back in November, against AC Milan, there will be a renewed urgency with Beram to really make a statement over the final few weeks of the campaign.

The problem for the midfielder is that, with his contract entering its final year, he has so much competition to overcome to reclaim the starting berth that, a couple of years back, seemed his for as long as he wanted it.

I have already mentioned Liam Henderson as a youngster who is capable of making a concerted impact at first team level and now Kayal also has to contend with Stefan Johansen and compatriot Nir Biton.

You also have Charlie Mulgrew in there while Scott Brown, as skipper, is probably the first name on Neil's team sheet.

So these are challenging times for Beram and I just hope that he will enjoy a period free of injury and a run of games that will allow him to recover his best form. Next up for Celtic is tomorrow's visit of St Mirren and it will be fascinating who starts that game between Kayal and Henderson.

Regardless of that selection battle, I expect Celtic to be too strong for the Paisley men.

I had a short spell as St Mirren manager in 1991 and I very much hope they can avoid the play-offs and stay up, but I fear their fate will not be known for a good few weeks yet and at this time a trip to Celtic Park is the last thing they want.

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