BERAM KAYAL'S season has, not for the first time, proved to be more stop than start.
With the finishing line in sight - and his contract about to enter its final year - it is no surprise the Israeli international is desperate to get back into the thick of the title-winning action.
Finally fully recovered from the broken foot bone picked up playing against AC Milan in the Champions League in November, Neil Lennon has promised the 25-year-old he will be given the opportunity to make up for lost game time.
Kayal has actually made more starts in European competition than he has in the SPFL Premiership, six compared to just four, including against Ajax when he scored the winner at Parkhead.
Even if he does make the seven appearances he still needs to qualify for a championship medal, it will have been yet another frustrating campaign for the player who has struggled to hit the heights of his first season in the Hoops.
He was one of Lennon's first recruits when he became boss in 2010, and was an instant hit with the manager and the fans.
When Scott Brown was out of the side in 2011, Kayal was handed the armband in recognition of his importance to the side.
But the catalogue of injuries - most significantly a broken wrist, fractured ankle and broken metatarsal - has kept pace with his medal haul during his four years at Parkhead, and it has been a constant battle to regain his starting place in the side.
International team-mate, Nir Biton, and Norwegian star, Stefan Johansen, have now stepped forward to challenge for places in a Hoops midfield which already has Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew as constants.
With rising star Liam Henderson also making a claim - he was selected ahead of Kayal for Friday's game at Kilmarnock as Lennon believed the 17-year-old was in better shape to compete and create at the heart of the team - the path back to a starting spot is not becoming any easier to negotiate.
The man who arrived in a £1million deal from Maccabi Haifa, and who was handed an improved contract just a year later, appears to be approaching a crossroads in his career.
So it will be reassuring for him to hear that Lennon retains full confidence he can continue to be an important player in the side he has been rebuilding since the raft of key-personnel departures - including midfielders Victor Wanyama and Joe Ledley - in the last two transfer windows.
Kayal - who replaced Henderson for the closing eight minutes at Rugby Park - has to be a bit more patient as Lennon is wary of throwing him into the thick of the action before he is ready and risking yet another injury.
The manager said: "Beram has been out for three months and I thought it might have been a little too early for him to start at Kilmarnock on Friday.
"He has only had one or two hours of football with the Development Squad since he got injured against Milan in November.
"That was the thinking behind going with Liam Henderson at Rugby Park.
"But Beram will get some game time soon."
Lennon is keen to ensure the competition for places in his starting XI does not wane, even if the sun will soon be setting on this season.
THE Celtic manager does not want anyone to slip into a comfort zone in terms of holding down a place in the team, because that would open the door to complacency and falling standards.
"No, you don't want to allow that," said Lennon, "You always want a bit of competition all through the side."
Johansen has helped increase that with his performances since arriving in January.
His development as an important cog in the engine room of the side was halted temporarily by an ankle injury picked up at Tynecastle last month.
The Norwegian again had to limp off again at Kilmarnock, but Lennon was happy to report: "Stefan just had a touch of cramp, so we took him off.
"He covered some amount of ground in the game on Friday. I thought he had a fantastic second half. Him and Scott Brown are starting to forge a really good partnership."
Lennon continues to lay the foundations for next season. He will use the remaining nine games of this campaign to try out one or two plays and tweak the system which could be used next time around.He will also take the opportunity to check on progress of individuals, including those yet to fully settle since arriving, Teemu Pukki, Amido Balde and the seemingly-frustrated Derk Boerrigter among them.
But the man who cut his teeth as a coach taking charge of the Development Squad is also keen to take a look at the new kids on the block.
Henderson has shown the leap can be made. And, while Lennon is again expected to quickly plunge into the transfer market when the window re-opens, he will never lose sight of the need to develop their own talent.
The manager admitted: "The Academy we have is important to me, because of the economic climate.
"We are pretty pleased with the Academy and what it is producing."
Darnell Fisher made the step up ahead of Henderson, and the 19-year-old full-back has already made 13 appearances for the first team this term.
Lennon has been impressed by the way he has deputised when Mikael Lustig and Adam Matthews have been out injured, which bodes well for the Bhoy from Reading who is coming to the end of his contract.
"Darnell has got a chance, and has been very consistent this season," said Lennon.
"Again, coming into the first team has not fazed him."
Not that it has perfect A's across the report card for Fisher. He was sent off while playing for the Under 20's against Hibs last week, which brought a two-game suspension from first-team matches.
That did not please Lennon, who said: "We were not happy about that - and he knows about that."