Matthew Lindsay

THERE were many positive aspects of Celtic’s win over Rennes on Thursday evening for Neil Lennon; the performance of Lewis Morgan up front, the world-class saves that Fraser Forster once again pulled off and the contribution of Mikey Johnston as he returned from a three month injury lay-off all pleased the manager.

Yet, the way the Scottish champions coped without Odsonne Edouard, their French striker who missed out due to a minor injury, in the Europa League match at Parkhead and topped Group E was particularly satisfying for the Northern Irishman.

Nobody could ever accuse the treble treble winners of being a one man team. They have, though, certainly been overly reliant on Edouard since Leigh Griffiths took an extended break from football last December in order to deal with personal issues and Vakoun Bayo suffered a knee injury earlier this term.

Lennon - who has, with Griffiths still working his way back to full fitness and Bayo also out, been concerned about the lack of cover he has had up front in recent weeks – feels it shows Celtic can live without their leading scorer if need be, including at European level.

READ MORE: Callum McGregor credits Celtic Europa success to Neil Lennon bravery

With no fewer than nine games coming up in December, starting with the Ladbrokes Premiership match away against Ross County in Dingwall tomorrow afternoon, he will have to rotate his squad and rest key players. He is confident now that he will be able to take Edouard, who is a doubt for this weekend’s match, out and maintain the push for a ninth consecutive league title.

“We said that to them before the game ‘we can’t use that (Edouard being injured) as an excuse lads’,” he said. “Listen, we all know how important Odsonne is. But if we do lose him for a game or two others can some in and we can still win the game.

“I didn’t want to be going to the press after and saying ‘we didn’t win tonight because we don’t have Odsonne’. That’s not the way it works and to be fair they answered all the questions and challenges we threw down on Thursday night.”

Lennon felt that the £9 million centre forward would have been proud of the goal that Morgan netted to put Celtic in front in the first-half of the Rennes match and believes the winger showed he is a viable option in attack with his all-round display.

READ MORE: Proud Celtic boss Neil Lennon hails landmark night as European records tumble with Rennes win

“His goal was fantastic, a striker’s goal really,” he said. “It was like an Edouard goal. We felt he could bring pace and he is a very fit boy. He is good with both feet and he is getting stronger because that comes from the belief in himself. We want him to be aggressive in his play and he certainly was that.

“We have looked at him in that position in training a few times. Just in case anything did go wrong with Odsonne. At times you think he’s an awful finisher, others when he is ‘wow, amazing’. With that talent he has got to play some sort of role along the way somewhere. And this was his opportunity.

“We felt really comfortable with the front six and obviously with the way the back guys and Fraser have been playing going forward I think we are very exciting to watch at times. We have great pace and Lewis adds to that as well.”

Lennon, who had to play Greg Taylor at left back with Boli Bolingoli and Jonny Hayes both out and Moritz Bauer at right with Hatem Elhamed unavailable, is confident he has the strength in depth required to come with Celtic’s punishing schedule in the coming weeks.

“You have to be ready when called upon,” he said. “Lewis has played in fits and starts. But he’s always kept himself available and ready to play. Jonny Hayes is very similar, Scott Sinclair’s the same. They’re great professionals in terms of what they do in training every day to keep themselves right.

“I was pleased with Nir Bitton too when he came on. It was good to get him some game time. And Mikey Johnston, he’s a great talent and we want to nurture that and look after him. You see in flashes what a player he could be.”

Lennon could, despite Griffiths getting another game against Rennes, Bayo being on the brink of returning and Morgan showing he can lead the line if required, bring in another striker during the January transfer window.

He believes Celtic’s burgeoning European reputation coupled with Scotland’s improved European coefficient standing – they are now 15th in the rankings after the results on Thursday night and will get two clubs into Champions League qualifying the season after next if they remain there – will help the treble treble winners’ attempts to strengthen their squad.

“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s important to have a good home reputation. We’ve got a 100 per cent home record in the group and that to me is very important. And it’s also showing now that they can perform away from home under pressure.

“I think European football for this club is essential. You can see the reaction of the fans after we won in Rome, the gravitas it gives the club and the pride it gives everyone. It’s in the club’s history and it’s important we carry that on in the present for the future.”

“I think it’s really burst open for us and a lot of people are talking about what both teams are doing in Europe in glowing terms – and that pleases me. However, I have only one team to look after.

“It was important that we made a fist of things in Europe. We’ve done that so far. The last 32? We’ll see what the draw brings. But it’s not beyond us to accomplish that and make in-roads in the competition.”