'What a hero': Jonny Hayes silences Celtic critics with Lazio display

Celtic fans show their support prior to the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and Hearts at Celtic Park on May 19, 2019 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Jonny Hayes was a shock starter at left-back as Neil Lennon's Celtic sealed famous Europa League win away at Lazio on Thursday.

James Forrest of Celtic celebrates scoring first goal during the UEFA Europa League group stage match between Lazio and Celtic at Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy.

Meek. Vulnerable. Predictable.

Three words that came to define Celtic in Europe during Brendan Rodgers’ two and a half years in charge of the Glasgow giants. None of those could describe Neil Lennon’s side on Thursday night, however, as Celtic produced the kind of resilient, aggressive continental performance that is quickly becoming their trademark under the former club captain.

And no one epitomises Lennon’s Celtic better than Jonny Hayes.

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Plunged into the deep end when Boli Bolingoli was ruled out through injury, the fact that the 32-year-old winger was chosen at left-back ahead of summer signing Greg Taylor speaks volumes about the commitment and big-game nous he brings to this Celtic side.

Jonny Hayes of Celtic FC during the UEFA Europa League group E match between Lazio Roma and Celtic FC at Stadio Olimpico on November 07, 2019 in Rome, Italy.

Yet, he continues to be criminally undervalued by large sections of the support. The knives were out as soon as the team sheet was aired but, some 90 minutes later as Lennon and co celebrated a famous win in Rome, no one dared to question Hayes’ importance to the team any longer.

Substitute Olivier Ntcham was the hero of course, clipping a 95th minute chip past an onrushing Tomas Strakosha with a nonchalance that defied the occasion to seal an unexpected 2-1 win, but Hayes’ role should not go under the radar.

He might have struggled to get to grips with Lazio winger Manuel Lazzari early on but he improved as the game went on – just like Celtic – and deserves to celebrate into the night.

Lazio's Italian midfielder Manuel Lazzari (L) and Celtic's Irish midfielder Jonny Hayes go for the ball during the UEFA Europa League Group E football match Lazio vs Celtic on November 7,...

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