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Conor Hazard set for extended Celtic run and new contract as Neil Lennon explains Craig Gordon comparisons with young Northern Ireland keeper

 

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Conor Hazard.

Conor Hazard.

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Head man: Shane Duffy rises to score Celtic’s second against Kilmarnock yesterday

Head man: Shane Duffy rises to score Celtic’s second against Kilmarnock yesterday

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Neil Lennon

Neil Lennon

PA

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Conor Hazard.

Conor Hazard's patience is finally paying off and now the Northern Ireland goalkeeper could even hold on to his spot for next week's William Hill Scottish Cup final against Hearts.

The 22-year-old, who made his only senior international appearance so far during the 2018 trip to Costa Rica, made his Celtic bow in last week's 3-2 win over Lille and kept his place for the much-needed 2-0 league success over Kilmarnock on Sunday.

It been a long time coming for the Downpatrick-born keeper who joined the club over six years ago from Cliftonville and has been farmed out on loan to Falkirk, Patrick Thistle and Dundee.

Such is the struggle of summer signing Vasilis Barkas to settle, however, Hazard now has the opportunity to stake his claim for a long-term spot as the club's starting keeper.

It is understood that he's in line for an extended run in the team and is even closing in on a bumper new deal, with his current contract due to expire at the end of the season.

Sunday's cup decider will give him to opportunity to go head-to-head with a man who knows all about that position as Craig Gordon plays against the side the left only in the summer.

There's little doubt the Scotland international played a role in Hazard's development and Celtic manager Neil Lennon, speaking before Sunday's success, reckons there are at least some parallels to be drawn between the two.

"Craig is an outstanding goalkeeper, one of Scotland’s finest ever, but I can see the similarities," the boss said, if prefacing his praise with a note that it may be 'too early' to read too much into any comparison.

"Conor is a good size, he is another lefty, he makes good saves and spreads himself well. I am sure Craig would have had a real positive influence on his development up to this point. Conor’s performances have been absolutely excellent. He has earned the right and we were delighted with him (on his debut in the Europa League).”

David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro also kept their places in the side following the Europa League win over Lille on Thursday and contributed again to Sunday's victory, with a deflected strike by Mohamed Elyounoussi and a Shane Duffy header keeping the Hoops 13 points behind Premiership leaders Rangers with two games in hand.

Skipper Scott Brown, Tom Rogic, Ryan Christie were among those on the bench and Lennon will take them and others into consideration when it comes to picking his side for Hampden Park next Sunday, where the champions have a chance to win an unprecedented quadruple domestic treble.

Asked if the guys who came in and made it difficult with regards his team for the final, the Celtic boss said: "Well they have given me options.

"But I'd like to think about the boys who got us there as well. We can't just write them off, but the lads who have come in have done a terrific job.

"Obviously we will do a lot of work on Hearts, who are really a Premiership team with the quality that they've got.

"I will not take it for granted, but we want to win it."

Lennon was pleased to see defender Duffy, who returned against Lille after being dropped, get among the goals.

He said: "I'm delighted for him. He's had a lot of criticism since he came here and its probably something he is not used to - the level of it and the volume of it.

"So we gave him a little bit of time out to try to adapt to things, and he has come back in and done really well.

"The club means a lot to him. He has had a difficult time off the field, and this was sort of a fresh start for him, and it probably didn't pan out for him the way he had envisaged."

Republic of Ireland defender Duffy, on loan from Brighton, conceded his form had not been up to standard.

He said: "I know my form hasn't been good enough but I know I can come back stronger.

"The gaffer has been brilliant with me. I actually felt he took me out of the team at the right time because my form wasn't good. He's done the right thing by me and picked the time to bring me back in.

"I watched the team from the sidelines and (have) seen what I could learn. I feel I'm still getting to know the players and it's not been easy. But it was obvious to see my form did dip.

"The Celtic fans haven't seen me before and since I've come into the club I haven't been me.

"I get them, I understand the criticism. I wouldn't be happy with myself either to be honest if I was watching me play from the stands."

After such an encouraging first half, Killie boss Alex Dyer was less than impressed with what he saw from his players after the interval.

He said: "You have to be on it from the first minute to the last and we weren't."

Belfast Telegraph


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