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Jon Riley 13th Aug 2010 - 13:42

Lennon Hoping Thistle be his Season

Neil Lennon's tenure as the manager of Celtic FC begins with a trip to North East Scotland and a meeting with Terry Butcher's newly promoted Inverness Caledonian Thistle.

The Hoops may have finished only six points behind Rangers in the chase for the SPL title but it could have been much more as their Glasgow rivals cantered to the finish line having secured the championship with matches to spare.

This season Celtic have confirmed the services of Neil Lennon as their manager. The man from Northern Ireland led the Glaswegians to eight straight victories at the end of the 2009/10 campaign as caretaker manager and will hope for a similarly successful record this season.

His first task is to take three points away from the Caladonian Stadium.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle earned their promotion to the Scottish top flight on the back of nine straight wins in the first division and an unbeaten run that spanned 21 games.Therefore Thistle shouldn't be lacking any confidence heading into this league opener.

The man behind their promotion success is England legend Terry Butcher. The Caley manager took the reins in 2009 and incidentally began with a game against Celtic.

Celtic have won three of their last five trips to the Caledonian Stadium and are priced at 4/9 to defeat the home side once again. The hosts are not fancied to carry on their terrific run of form from last season into this and can be backed at 7/1 to defeat Celtic.

Neil Lennon has presided over a close season of change at Parkhead. In fact, against Braga there were five players making their home debuts. Out has gone Aiden McGeady to CSKA Moscow for a reported £10 million and has left a space on the Celtic wing that could prove difficult to fill.

When looking at the first scorer market I'm inclined to go with the away side's attacking options. The £2.4m man Gary Hooper could well start up front and is 7/2 to open the scoring against Thistle. The signing of Hooper underwhelmed the Celtic faithful to say the least, who were expecting a bigger name signing to don the famous green and white. However, the 22 year old managed to bag a goal on his home debut for the club and could well prove to be a shrewd bit of business.

Hooper's team mates Samaras and Fortune are priced at 4/1 and 9/2 respectively to break the deadlock. An early goal for the away team could be invaluable as they conceded first in both games against Braga and could have fragile confidence.

Inverness have done very well to keep hold of their striker Adam Rooney who was coveted by quite a few Championship clubs south of the border over the summer. He scored in each of Thistle's last six games at the end of last season to secure their promotion.

The Irishman is quoted at 8/1 to notch first but as four of Inverness's last five goals against Celtic have been scored in the second half, a better option might be a punt on Rooney to score the last goal of the game at 8s also.

My recommendation for this game would be for a Celtic victory but given their shaky defensive performance of last season and in this pre-season I am not willing to bet at the 4/9 on offer. Instead I am looking at the market for Celtic to come from behind and win at 6/1.

The Hoops have never lost an opening day SPL fixture and in all fairness I can't see them losing here either.



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