‘Mellow’ Neil Lennon passes emotional first test on return to Celtic hotseat

The banner unfurled by the away fans made it clear what they thought of Brendan Rodgers: ‘You traded immortality for mediocrity. Never a Celt. Always a fraud’.

There could be no dubiety about Neil Lennon’s love for the club, though.

As the returning boss emerged from the tunnel to boos from three of the Tynecastle stands the away stand sang their acclaim for a man who has always been one of them.

Freshly appointed, there had been uncertainty over where the interim Celtic manager would watch the match. In the end he opted for the place he feels most at home.

Celtic's Neil Lennon runs on the pitch celebrating Odsonne Edouard's late winner. Picture: PA

The dug-out, accepting that at a stadium like Tynecastle there is never any hiding place.

Not that the Northern Irishman has ever hidden in the shadows or blended into the crowd. But there was a sense last night that while he was happy to be front and centre, he wanted to paint a more contained picture.

The last time he had occupied the away dugout at this ground, all hell broke loose. Pelted with a coin, he ended up on the ground but on his return to the Tynecastle technical area, he stood tall.

As he emerged from the tunnel, he will have anticipated the reception. Three sides of the ground howled their derision, but the Roseburn End erupted in extollation.

Lennon celebrates at full time. Picture: SNS Group

After embracing his opposite number, Craig Levein - their warm hug and shared joke the small human moment in a bigger pantomime - he raised his hands to salute the fans who had thrown down the welcome mat.

Those arms were raised again just minutes into the game. This was Brendan Rodgers’ team, and it had been prepared by the man who will now assist Lennon, John Kennedy.

But the man who is auditioning for the managerial role on a permanent basis made it clear that he already views the task of steering the Parkhead side to their eighth successive title, and their third treble as his responsibility

Yet, in those early periods of the game, he wasn’t the one remonstrating, he wasn’t the one berating the fourth official or turning purple with rage.

While he stood with hand on hips, gestured quizzically towards his coaches, or shouted some tactical advice into his team, it was his Hearts counterpart who raged against the SFA machine.

The former Hibs boss had claimed in his earlier press conference that Neil Lennon, Celtic manager mark ii was a more mellow fellow than the one who had harangued and hauled behooped teams of yesteryear to the first three titles in the current ten in a row quest.

As the abuse rained down on him and Hearts pressurised their guests, that self-regulation was severely tested and it was Levein who had to be calmed down by the fourth official as he fulminated on the touchline, irate at refereeing decisions and anxious to see his team convert their early superiority into something tangible.

When Celtic staged their counter attack in the 36th minute to take the lead against the run of play, Lennon’s emotions rose to the top as he hugged his coaching staff.

Having been pegged back, Celtic’s stoppage winner was the excuse to finally let the pent up feelings spill over.

It wasn’t quite the aeroplane celebration but he did end up on the pitch before setting off down the touchline, the picture of joy uncontained and when the final whistle sounded he took his bow in front of the away support and cupped his ears. The sound of mutual appreciation was all that reverberated around the ground.