There is no denying that Conor Hazard’s chances of first-team football at Celtic took a big blow this summer.

The Northern Ireland internationalist featured during pre-season. His most high-profile outing was 45 minutes against Rennes at Parkhead – a game in which he looked composed and steady in against a top side.

But it would take a brave fan to bet he’ll be in between the sticks the next time face Rennes in this season’s Europa League. And that’s because he’s now suddenly fourth choice in the Parkhead pecking order.

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Conor Hazard has been capped by Northern Ireland (David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The signing of Fraser Forster looks to have been about finding a new number one for Neil Lennon’s side. But no matter whether he’s first, second, or third choice, he’s still ahead of Hazard.

The youngster is currently away with the Northern Ireland under-21 squad to face Malta and Finland respectively. He managed to keep a clean sheet in the 0-0 draw with the Maltese, but a trip to Finland tomorrow looks more tricky.

A loan move would be best for everyone

In any case, the player himself has already admitted that he would be open to a loan move (Belfast Telegraph). And if there’s any chance of getting that sorted in January, Celtic have to take it.

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Hazard can’t look at the Celtic first-team anymore and look to breakthrough. Instead, he has to start using his abilities to work his way up the Scottish football ladder.

Hazard has outgrown youth-team football (Vagelis Georgariou/Action Plus via Getty Images)

He had a taster of it last season with Championship side Partick Thistle. Hazard joined the Jags back in January, and conceded 19 goals in 15 outings. It’s not exactly great numbers, but it’s senior experience, and that’s the only way he can continue to develop. Considering how poor Partick were under Gary Caldwell last season too, Hazard can’t take much of the blame.

It’s been a bit of a surprise that Celtic and Hazard didn’t come to the decision of loaning him out again over the summer. Sitting in the reserves won’t do him anywhere near as much good. With Forster, Craig Gordon, and Scott Bain all ahead of him, opportunities couldn’t be more non-existent for him.

Hazard has a long way to go to prove he can be a Celtic number one someday. But the picture is far too stocked for him to give it a go at the moment. At 21, meanwhile, he needs to be playing regularly. With Championship experience at both Partick and Falkirk respectively, it would be ideal if Celtic could find him some top-tier football elsewhere.

Hazard is also a regular for Northern Ireland at youth level (VI Images via Getty Images)

That could be tricky, however, considering Hazard’s unspectacular clean-sheet record in the Championship. However, his short stint at Falkirk back in 2017/18 saw him manage to concede just nine goals in 11 games. He’s clearly got potential.

But regardless of where he goes, he simply needs to be playing first and foremost. Staying at Celtic, therefore, shouldn’t be an option this January.

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