Careers can be monumentally turned around in one afternoon of football. The margins between breakthrough success and resounding failure are excruciatingly fine, but can make or break a footballer at a top level club like Celtic.
This fixture against Hearts has historically done just that: the reintroduction from the football wilderness of Scott Sinclair in 2016, versus the comparative breakdown of progress of Eboue Kouassi in 2018.
Sinclair went on to be an invincible and a staple part of Celtic’s treble treble success, but has since inexplicably faded from Neil Lennon’s squad at the offset of his fourth campaign in Scottish football. This has prompted a section of the Celtic support to question the reasons behind the Englishman’s absence, to which Lennon has offered assurances to stress that the decision is solely down to form.
Kouassi had once been earmarked as a long-term replacement for Scott Brown, but was unceremoniously thrown into the deep-end of a Tynecastle encounter that was sandwiched between two mammoth Champions League qualifiers against AEK Athens. His rare appearance ended in a 1-0 defeat, and the young Ivorian has barely been seen since.
Since his January arrival under Brendan Rodgers, Kouassi’s compatriot Vakoun Issouf Bayo hasn’t enjoyed much in the way of first-team football either. The £2 million forward checked-in at Celtic Park following a rich run of goalscoring form in the Slovakian Super League. Bayo was an unknown quantity to most Hoops’ fans seven months ago and the announcement of his signing felt as underwhelming as receiving garage flowers on Valentine’s Day.
But the 22-year-old bided his time and was today rewarded with a first-team start in Celtic’s third league encounter of the season. His response was near-perfect, as he instantly repaid his gaffer’s faith in him by netting twice in a 3-1 victory.
The requiem writers had all but written Neil Lennon’s second coming off in the aftermath of the Champions League shocker against Cluj. A run of three wins in three – including the impressive Europa League defeat of AIK Stockholm – seems to have settled the hysteria. For now, at least.
Tonight, Lennon has Bayo to thank, in part, for maintaining Celtic’s 100% domestic record this season. But the manager won’t rest on his laurels and has intimated that he expects another three new faces to arrive before the transfer window closes in eight days.
Will one of those be Lennon’s former midfield talisman, Victor Wanyama? Despite Fraser Forster’s protestations that Wanyama was eyeing a Celtic Park return, the sheer scale of the financial package required to entice him from the EPL would surely make such a deal beyond Lennon’s reach.
🍀 A CELTIC STATE OF MIND
⭐️ Man of the Match
🏆 Celtic 3 Hearts 1
1️⃣ Kristoffer Ajer
2️⃣ Vakoun Issouf Bayo
3️⃣ Callum McGregor
Paul John DykesListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast