Neil Lennon admits Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper responded in fine fashion to his recent criticism of the strike duo by sharing the goals in Celtic’s 3-1 Europa League win over Rennes at Parkhead last night.
The Hoops boss had singled the two players out after the goalless draw against Hibernian at Parkhead in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League on Saturday left Celtic three points behind second-placed Motherwell – whom they visit on Sunday - and 12 behind leaders Rangers.
Hooper, indeed, was dropped for the visit of the French side, with his place taken by Georgios Samaras.
It looked like that change – one of six that Lennon made – would have little effect after Rennes skipper Kader Mangane scored with less than two minutes on the clock.
However, Stokes struck back with a double before the break and with nine minutes remaining Hooper, who had come on for James Forrest, knocked in a pass from Samaras to seal the win as the visitors finished with 10 men after star midfielder Yann M’Vila was sent off after picking up two yellow cards.
Asked if Stokes and Hooper had provided the perfect response, the Celtic boss said:
“That would be a fair assessment. They both scored and I thought Stokes had a great game.
“He was excellent in Rennes and excellent last night but the two of them were a little bit flat on Saturday.
“So again it is a question of consistency – but with younger players you get that now and again.”
The win took Celtic to within two points of Group I leaders Atletico Madrid with games against the Spanish club and Udinese – also above them with seven points – still to come.
However, one downside was the injury to stand-in skipper Glenn Loovens, who came off at the break with a recurrence of a hamstring injury which is likely to rule him out of the trip to Fir Park on Sunday.
Lennon had special praise for 17-year-old Marcus Fraser, who replaced the Dutchman to make his competitive debut.
“The injuries keep piling up for us,” said the former Celtic skipper.
“Loovens battled on to half-time but he couldn’t raise a gallop so we had to make a change.
“We didn’t want to change the shape of the team at half-time so that is why Marcus came on.
“We brought Stevie Frail (youth coach) down at half-time for a chat.
“Young Joe Chalmers was there as well and he might have given us balance with the left foot but Stevie just thought that Marcus might handle the occasion better.
“He had a game in Bilbao last year in a friendly in front of 40,000 and had a great game so to come on and play as well as he did is a credit to him and to the academy for the players that they are producing.”