Indeed, he ought to be pinching himself at how events have panned out on the back of tumult and turmoil that buffeted the Scottish champions with the fast flit of Brendan Rodgers to Leicester City on Tuesday. As if easing into a pair of comfortable old slippers, Lennon has taken up residence again in his spiritual home and serenely moved his club closer to a treble treble through adding the scalp of his old club Hibernian to that of Hearts across a matter of days and extending Celtic’s record run of domestic cup wins to 25.
Brown and Forrest were two mainstays from Lennon’s first spell in charge of the Parkhead side that kicked off nine years ago this month. The 47-year-old might feel that everything is better second time around. It has allowed him to achieve a feat that eluded his all-conquering predecessor Rodgers who did not achieve a victory at Easter Road, with Lennon in Leith to thwart him. Lennon’s switch back to the away dressing room has coincided with a first win for Celtic at the ground since last time he held the post, back in January 2014.
There was fevered anticipation about a cup tie that had the Lennon/Hibs, Rodgers/Lennon subplots stitched into it. Ultimately, aside from the goals and a Buckfast bottle being thrown towards Scott Sinclair from an area housing Hibs as the winger prepared to take a corner, there was little needle or anything else to ensure it got under the skin.
Paul Heckingbottom’s side did not create a single clear-cut opportunity and, from the moment that Forrest delightfully carved out the 61st-minute opener, appeared a beaten team. A first defeat in four for the Englishman, he admitted that Celtic were simply better.
It was, in part, a tale of two strategies, and changes to these across the 90 minutes. Cat and mouse between the two teams, Heckingbottom didn’t ape the Lennon approach for Hibs’ recent wins over Celtic at Easter Road, playing two strikers and so not crowding Celtic in midfield to prevent their centre-backs building the play by allowing Brown to pick it up from them. The visitors, meanwhile, were reconfigured by Lennon after half an hour, when he switched Forrest inside from wide right, with Oliver Burke, who had started as Celtic’s most advanced striker, moving to that wing. In turn Odsonne Edouard was pushed up front from the No 10 role that Forrest took up.
The Scotland attacker began to get on the ball in dangerous areas and exploded this cup-tie when he produced a stupendous hit, a drive into the top corner after he had slalomed past two markers.
Brown, enjoying a renaissance as a goalscorer, then claimed his third strike in six games when he seized on a cutback from Edouard, danced past Paul Hanlon and ripped an effort past Ofir Marciano from around the penalty spot.
It allowed the visiting supporters to glory in their team – having earlier gloried in the Provisional IRA with renditions of Roll of Honour – and glory in further bating of their erstwhile manager with the charming ditty of “F*** Brendan Rodgers, you won’t be winning trophies any more”. Their subsequent serenading of Lennon seemed almost an afterthought. You have to wonder if football supporters, with claims that both sets hurled bottles towards the pitch, actually know how to derive harmless enjoyment from watching the game these days.
For Brown, it turned into a case of Celtic doing with Lennon what they have become accustomed to doing across the Rodgers seven-trophy era. “It’s been a rollercoaster but we’ve got two good results in the space of a few days,” he said. “We’re in another semi-final at Hampden which was a really good venue for us under Brendan. Here’s hoping it can be a great place for us with Neil as well. We’re very motivated and the longer games go on, the stronger and fitter we look.
“I kept in touch with Neil the whole time he was away, even when he was down in Bolton. We’ve got a great bond and strong relationship. It’s just been great to get two victories at difficult venues. Easter Road has been a tough place to come for us so it was a great win.
“We’re just enjoying playing football and winning games. We need to keep pushing on now.
“Everyone in the dressing-room understands the situation now. Neil has come in and been fantastic. We have to focus on that now moving forward. People could have used Brendan leaving as an excuse. But for us, we have games to win every three or four days.”