CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has predicted a glowing future for Amido Balde and promised him a greater share of first-team action in the months ahead.
The Portuguese striker was Celtic’s matchwinner at Firhill yesterday, the substitute netting the clinching goal in a 2-1 win over Partick Thistle which strengthened the champions’ position at the top of the Premiership table.
It was only the 22-year-old’s second goal for Celtic since his summer move from Vitoria Guimaraes in his adopted homeland, and he has made just one competitive appearance so far. But Lennon is more than satisfied with Balde’s progress and has praised his attitude off the pitch and appreciation of his situation at the club.
“We know what we’ve got with him,” said Lennon. “He knows and we know that he’s here for the long haul. We are going to try to polish off the rough edges that he has. We think he’s got great attributes and you could see that again today. He’s been very patient but he understands where he is within the squad. He will be a good player for Celtic.
“As the season progresses we will see more of Amido. He’s been very patient, he hasn’t got frustrated, he’s listened and he’s tried to learn. You can see that he brings a different dimension to the team. We were on the back foot at times today and when things get a bit physical he’s a great option to have. I thought his goal was terrific.
“He has power, we don’t really have that kind of target man as such and we haven’t had one for a while in that sort of mould. He’s got great pace, on the counter-attack he’s excellent, and he’s a decent finisher. He can improve a lot of aspects of his game and that’s what we are working on day in, day out, but I was delighted with his game today and we have been delighted with his attitude since he came in the door.
“You have to remember he is still only 22. He is still a baby – a big baby mind you. He is still a baby in footballing terms. Again, it takes time to adapt to new surroundings and a new style of football but he has done very well. He has shown real quality when we needed him out there and I am really pleased with him.”
Yesterday’s win came at a cost for Celtic with injuries suffered by Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras. Left-back Izaguirre was carried off on a stretcher following a head knock, while Samaras limped off with a gashed knee. “Emilio is feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous,” said Lennon. “But he’s sitting up and he’s a little bit sore. We’ll have to monitor him over the next couple of days. He couldn’t remember the run and shot that he had before he came off, so I reminded him of it and said he should get a bang on the head more often if he’s going to do that!
“It’s always a huge concern when you see a player going down like that after a head knock, but thankfully he seems to be okay. Georgios has a big gash in his knee which needs stitches, and he will be a doubt for the Dundee United game next Saturday. It was a good win for us today, a good game. We should have been home and hosed at half-time with the chances we created, but at 1-0 Thistle were always in the game. We’ve dug out a fantastic win in difficult conditions against a good side.”
Lennon, meanwhile, dismissed a report linking Scotland winger James Forrest with a £6 million January move to Cardiff City. “There is no substance in it,” he insisted. “We are months away from the window – he is not for sale. There are no grounds for the story. I don’t know if people are trying to unsettle players here. It is as if everyone wants me to sell a player every month – people talked about van Dijk, Brown, Forster and now James. They are not going anywhere.”
Thistle manager Alan Archibald was left to rue the defensive errors which contributed to Celtic’s victory and his team’s wait for their first home league win of the season continues.
“It’s something which frustrates the life out of you as a manager,” said Archibald. “We conceded the first from a corner and then were sloppy in possession to give them their second goal. When Celtic get chances like that, they take them. But I can take positives from the way we played. We won’t be far away if we play like that against other teams.”