Sport Soccer

Thursday 23 February 2017

McCourt revels in fight for his place

Celtic 3
Hearts 0

Ronnie Esplin

Paddy McCourt wheels away after scoring with another sublime finish for Celtic on Saturday. Photo: Reuters
Paddy McCourt wheels away after scoring with another sublime finish for Celtic on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

Paddy McCourt knows there is little else he can do to persuade Celtic boss Neil Lennon to give him a starting slot but keep delivering the sort of moments of magic he produced against Hearts.

A freak neck injury picked up when celebrating his winning goal at Inverness in the first SPL game of the season meant the winger has returned to the bench in recent weeks.

But, with Celtic leading through goals by James Forrest and Shaun Maloney, the substitute wrapped up a victory in the dying seconds with a wonderful goal, dinking the ball over Marian Kello after a trademark solo run.

The mercurial Irishman recognises that, with Celtic top of the SPL with four wins out of four and no goals conceded, he faces a battle for a starting spot.

"Coming on and scoring goals won't do me any harm," the former Derry City winger said. "The competition in the wide areas and up front is really strong and it is driving everyone on.

"There are probably four or five strikers who think they should be playing every week and maybe three or four wingers as well. I'm sure when the manager sits down to pick the team he has a few headaches but that is better than struggling to pick 11 players.

stupid

"I started the first game but picked up an injury and James and Shaun have started the last few games. But I think it would be a bit stupid to knock on the door when we have won every game and haven't conceded a goal yet."

The Northern Ireland international is well aware the Hoops fans expect to see brilliance when he takes to the field.

"The expectancy is something I thrive on," he said. "I always get a buzz when I hear the reception when I come on. I know people are there to see me entertain and that is the strongest part of my game so if I can keep producing goals and chances for the team then hopefully that will be good enough."

Lennon was as pleased with the clean sheet as with the chances his side created and converted in what was his 12th SPL victory in succession.

"We have got good quality on the bench and we just needed to pep things up a little bit," said the Armagh man, who admitted there were aspects of the performance he was not happy about, one of which was the performance of skipper Scott Brown.

"Scott's general fitness is very good. He's probably just suffering from a bit of mental fatigue," he said. "It's been a tough couple of weeks, not just for him, but for all the international boys."

Hearts boss Jim Jefferies is facing a touchline ban after being sent to the Celtic Park stand in the first half by referee Willie Collum. Jefferies was seething that Daryl Murphy had not been flagged offside when he ran through to set up Forrest's goal.

He also claimed the visitors were denied a penalty at 2-0 down when Celtic defender Emilio Izaguirre clashed with David Templeton.

Irish Independent

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