Celtic interim manager Neil Lennon has heaped praise on the performance of centre-back Jozo Simunovic yesterday.
The Bosnian was in fine form against Aberdeen. On his 24th appearance of the season, Simunovic saved his best for the Scottish Cup semi-final against the Dons.
Defensively, he was unstoppable. Sam Cosgrove didn’t once get the better of Simunovic, who bullied the Englishman around the national stadium. Alongside Kristoffer Ajer, he settled in nicely and proved himself to be a reliable choice for Lennon.
And the interim boss wasn’t in any mood to cool any praise of Simunovic either. Instead, he waxed lyrical about his defensive performance as well as his technical ability. Speaking to the official Celtic website, Lennon also touched on something he hadn’t ever seen before from the defender.
“I thought Jozo was absolutely fantastic and I’m delighted for him. He’s had a horrific time with injuries and we’ve been trying to manage him through it. I thought he set the tone for the rest of the team.
“He handled Sam Cosgrove well in the physical battle and showed technical ability that I’ve never seen before from him.
“He set the tone with his drive through to get the shot off. It was very positive and everything we wanted from the team. Jozo lit the fuse for us with that running shot, although he should’ve scored from the subsequent corner!”
What does this mean for Filip Benkovic?
At the start of the season, it would’ve been inconceivable that Simunovic started ahead of Filip Benkovic. When both are fit, there’s probably no denying that Benkovic is still the better defender.
But Simunovic remains a Celtic player. He’s not away at the end of the season like Benko, and Celtic have to start building a team for the Champions League qualifiers in June.
Simunovic’s game-time this season has been too stop-start. But now, with Dedryck Boyata injured and Benkovic below him in the pecking order, he has a huge chance to make his mark alongside Ajer. The duo showed they can work with each other on Sunday, and that’s a big plus for Simunovic.
Lennon was keen to talk about his ability going forward, and that was another first. In the past, Simunovic’s ball retention has been fairly poor. He’s often looked uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, but not yesterday.
From driving runs to step-overs, Simunovic was on-fire against Aberdeen in the 3-0 success. And now, after Lennon’s comments, the centre-back spot next to Ajer is surely his to lose.