Celtic manager Neil Lennon has dismissed the possibility of loaning Lewis Morgan to Hibernian in January, insisting the attacking midfielder has an important role to play for the Scottish champions this season.
Morgan made a rare starting appearance for Celtic on Thursday night, scoring the opening goal of their 3-1 Europa League win at home to Rennes as he deputised for injured central striker Odsonne Edouard.
The 23-year-old Scotland international has struggled for first team game time since joining Celtic from St Mirren 18 months ago and spent the second half of last season on loan at Sunderland under Jack Ross, his former manager at Saints.
The recent appointment of Ross as Hibs boss has inevitably seen Morgan linked with a loan move to Easter Road but Lennon has all but ruled it out.
“We’re not in the mood to do that,” said Lennon. “Lewis is an important part of our squad. You can see what he brings at times, he just needs to believe in himself a little bit more and I think that performance against Rennes will do him the world of good in terms of his confidence.
“He has been showing that in training and I’m really pleased that he is able to convert that into game time.
“His goal was fantastic – a striker’s goal really. 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 against Rennes. We have looked at him in that striking 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. This was his opportunity.
“He has proved he has got the game and can bring something to the squad and the team when called upon. I hope he gets a lift from it. What it does show you is his professionalism and the way he has looked after himself.
“What we see in training every day is what we saw on Thursday night. He was full of running, at times he showed real quality. He has kept himself going really well.”
Celtic begin a sequence of nine games in 29 days during December when they face Ross County in Dingwall tomorrow and Lennon has stressed that those members of his squad who have been fringe players for much of the campaign will be vital in the coming weeks.
“Of course you have to be ready when you are called upon,” added Lennon. “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 also pleased with Nir Bitton when he came on against Rennes. It was good to get him some game time.
“It was also good to get Mikey Johnston back from injury, coming on and scoring against Rennes. 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 revelled in Celtic’s success against Rennes which clinched top spot in their Europa League group and saw them set a new Scottish points record of 13 in the group stage of any European club competition.
In conjunction with Rangers’ draw at Feyenoord, it also saw Scotland move into 15th place in the provisional Uefa coefficient rankings which would earn a second Champions League qualifying place in season 2021-22.
“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,” said Lennon.
“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 of the Europa League, we’ll see what the draw brings. But it’s not beyond us to accomplish that and make inroads in the competition.
“It’s huge. 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. The team are also showing now that they can perform away from home under pressure.
“European football for this club is essential and you can see the reaction of the fans after we won in Rome earlier this month, 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.”