Neil Lennon's star on the rise without domestic strife

Celtic manager benefits from Rangers' demotion as he aims for Double

A misdemeanour almost kept Neil Lennon from leading his side out for the Scottish Cup final at Hampden. He broke the terms of a touchline ban last month by entering a restricted area too soon after the final whistle in a game against Motherwell at Fir Park, but the Scottish Football Association's punishment was a one-match ban suspended for 12 months. It seems fitting that Lennon, at the end of a defining season, can take his place at the forefront of this Celtic side he built rather than concern himself with disciplinary matters.

In many ways, this is the campaign during which Lennon came of age as a manager. Winning the Scottish Premier League for a second consecutive season was expected to be comfortable, with Rangers playing in the Third Division due to last summer's insolvency. Yet Lennon excelled, because without the familiarities of domestic football he was able to capture attention.

Lennon's emotional attachment to Celtic – he grew up in Northern Ireland supporting the club – means he is keenly aware of the club's history. Winning a League and cup Double will secure his place among the club's notable managers.

To the majority of the fans he is already a revered figure, but that is as much to do with his background as a Catholic from Northern Ireland who has encountered prejudice during his time in Scotland.

Defeating Hibernian today would be a rousing finish to a campaign that saw Lennon guide his side to the last 16 of the Champions' League after beating Barcelona at Celtic Park in the group stages.

That result, when improbability was swept aside by a gloriously raucous atmosphere and tactically astute and diligent performance, brought acclaim. Lennon had devised and coaxed an outstanding performance from his team, and briefly he was a fêted manager.

The moment did not pass him by. He had already taken advice about his image and how to raise his profile in England, and he became a regular on national TV and radio. He saw this as an opportunity to present himself.

He had changed his demeanour. While he is still edgy and forceful on the touchline, there have been fewer confrontations with officials and the football authorities. A long chat with Sir Alex Ferguson, who visited Celtic's Lennoxtown training complex last year, was helpful in guiding a young manager – Lennon is 41 – but also in establishing that he is in the mind of British football's most influential figure.

Lennon is ambitious, and has admitted to wanting to test himself in England or the Continent. He has been linked with the vacancies at Everton and Stoke while his former club Leicester City have also been mentioned as a possible destination, yet it seems absurd to consider leaving Celtic, who are all but guaranteed a shot at trying to qualify for the Champions' League for two more seasons at least, for a smaller club in the Championship.

This might be his moment of highest profile, and Lennon can use his standing for leverage. His relationship with Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, tends to fluctuate, though Lawwell has always stood by Lennon, even through off-field dramas. The manager has a stronger relationship with Dermot Desmond, the majority shareholder and powerbroker, and they were due to meet last week to discuss Lennon's remuneration and transfer budget.

Lennon wants a greater say in recruitment, although the club's hierarchy and transfer policy, involving the development manager, John Park, overseeing talent-spotting in under-utilised markets such as Honduras, is widely admired and generally self-sustaining.

Winning the Scottish Cup would further embolden Lennon. He has managed cleverly and commandingly this season, particularly since the competitive tension of the Old Firm rivalry has been missing. There have been mundane displays, but mostly Celtic have been brightly effective.

They are clear favourites against Hibernian, even if the Edinburgh side won one of their three encounters in the League, with another one drawn. Pat Fenlon's side can be industrious and dynamic, but almost all of their threat gathers around the guile and impetuousness of Leigh Griffiths, on loan from Wolves.

Hibs bring their own narrative to the final, having not won the Scottish Cup since 1902. That burden will tend to draw a sympathetic support from the rest of Scottish football today, and winning would be a cathartic moment as well as a historic one. The club suffered a 5-1 defeat against local rivals Hearts in last season's final.

For Lennon, this is an opportunity to emphasise his standing as a manager of growing reputation. For Hibs it is a chance to atone.

Celtic v Hibernian is on Sky Sports 3 today, kick-off 3pm

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'