RONNY DEILA has put a grin back on the faces of Celtic's supporters.

More importantly, he has got his players smiling again.

For confirmation, check out their beaming expressions as they joined their manager in linking hands and running towards the travelling fans at the end of their Scottish Cup win over Hearts at Tynecastle on Sunday.

As celebrations go it boasted better choreography than the Bhoys' spontaneous show of raw emotion which marked the last-gasp triumph at Aberdeen three weeks earlier.

But the underlying passion was the same, with the Hoops boss leading the way.

For a Scandinavian, it all appears out of character. They are renowned for a cool, calm, almost detached attitude.

But, as in so many other ways, Deila is breaking the mould - and the supporters are warming to him as a result.

Before, during and after games, he now appears more comfortable in the job which, initially, appeared to be in danger of overwhelming him.

When his team runs out at Fir Park on Saturday to take on Motherwell, it will mark six months in situ for the man plucked from the relative obscurity of Stromsgodset and thrust into the goldfish bowl that is Celtic Park.

There have been many highs and lows in that period.

But with a Treble still in his sights - winning six more cup ties would give Celtic two-thirds of it - and having moved to the top of the league while booking a place in the Europa League's last 32, Deila's stock has never been higher.

In tandem, his players - often justly criticised for not delivering in the early stages of the season - are now winning praise as well as matches.

All of which has served to transform the atmosphere around the club, as evidenced by the fact that broad smiles have returned to faces on and off the park.

"The results are, of course, important," agreed Deila, who added, "but also there is a good team spirit and environment in the group now. They enjoy playing together and that is important."

Which is just as well, given how they must continue to bounce from midweek game to weekend game without respite until they can head off for their break to Gran Canaria in mid-January.

It's a consequence of being in the hunt for so many prizes and, as such, a situation which Deila is happy to embrace.

Tomorrow they face Partick Thistle at Parkhead as they finally fulfil the fixture they elected to postpone on the first day of the league season as they battled, unsuccessfully, to progress to the Group Stage of the Champions League.

And Saturday presents the chance to make up for the two points dropped when Motherwell came to Celtic Park in September, a time when the champions were struggling to move out of mid-table.

How things have changed since then, as a run of seven straight wins in three domestic competitions underline.

With at least one Europa League knock-out tie to look forward to from February and a hiatus in the interruptions for international games, Deila is looking forward to having the chance to get down to some serious work on the training pitches at Lennoxtown.

"It's good that we have over two months now with no more international football," said the Hoops boss.

"But we have very important matches in this time and it is good that we can train together more.

"We can improve, and that will make us ready for what is coming in the spring."

DEILA and his backroom staff already have carefully defined plans for how they will use this period to make the players better, individually and collectively.

The whole squad will benefit, but some of them more than others. James Forrest is one who Deila hopes will be able to make the most of this chance.

The winger, who has been bedevilled with injury, is at last getting back up to speed after being sidelined for three months with more groin and hamstring problems.

Ironically, for someone with pace to burn, Forrest's phased return to action has been implemented with a metaphorical handbrake on.

He has yet to play a full match since coming out of cold storage at Aberdeen over three weeks ago.

Deila explained that painful - in every sense - lessons had been learned from what he considers were mistakes made with the player in the past.

Those indicated a measure of desperation to get the player back on the pitch wreaking his havoc, but they proved to be counter-productive.

Deila explained: "We need to be really very careful and do things the right way with James. He has been pushed too much into games. Now we are taking our time.

"He needs a long time to be at the best level he can be. But, without consistency of training and treatment, we have no chance of getting that."

THE slowly, slowly approach to managing Forrest's unique and complex physical issues is adopted all week at Lennoxtown, where the medical team, physios and everyone else in the backroom staff combine knowledge and best practice to keep him on the road to full recovery.

It's also why even after he has left the action with half an hour to go, as happened at Aberdeen and at Tynecastle at the weekend, Forrest's work for the day is not done.

While most of his team-mates are hitting the showers, the 23-year-old midfielder can be found back on the pitch undergoing a carefully planned warm-down designed to ensure he suffers no reaction to his earlier exertions.

Deila has had little opportunity to utilise Forrest's pace but the manager understands how important it can be in the system he wants to play.

"We need more penetrating runs to open space for each other," Deila explained.

That's what Forrest can offer his team and it is why every minute spent on getting him back on the pitch on a regular basis is deemed worth the effort of all involved.