WHEN Neil Lennon was asked to become caretaker manager of Celtic until the end of the season following the sudden and acrimonious departure of Brendan Rodgers last February, he faced a daunting task.

The man who he was taking over from had been positively deified by the Parkhead club’s supporters – until, that is, he had upped and left for Leicester City overnight – and had won all seven of the domestic competitions he had competed in.

So his fellow Northern Irishman would be a hard act to follow and then some. It would be like going on stage after Frank Sinatra had performed his set in the Copa Room at The Sands.

But Lennon, who had just parted company with Hibernian himself, had invaluable experience of inheriting another Celtic manager’s squad, albeit an unsuccessful one, towards the tail end of a campaign under his belt and that stood him in good stead.

He had, despite being just 38 and having never managed before, replaced Tony Mowbray on a temporary basis on this day back in 2010 after the Englishman was sacked in the wake of a humiliating 4-0 defeat at the hands of relegation-threatened St Mirren in Paisley.

The circumstances couldn’t have been more different. Rodgers’s men were bidding to complete an unprecedented treble treble. Mowbray’s charges, meanwhile, were well off the pace in the Premier League and only had a Scottish Cup semi-final to look forward to.

The former Celtic midfielder and captain, though, rose to the challenge with aplomb. The semi-final defeat to second tier Ross County at Hampden was ignominious. But his men won all eight of their remaining league matches, including their penultimate fixture against Rangers, and he was asked to accept the position permanently.

The decision to take a chance on the man from Lurgan, untested as a coach and a combustible and divisive character to boot, proved inspired.

Lennon – whose team was closing in on another clean sweep of domestic silverware before football in this country was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 13 - celebrates the 10th anniversary of his appointment today.

“It feels like a lifetime rather than 10 years because there’s been so much crammed into it,” he told Celtic’s official website yesterday. “There have been so many great times over the 10 years.”

After an underwhelming start to his first spell in the dugout – in his first full season in charge Celtic failed to qualify for both the Champions League and Europa League and were overtaken in the league by eventual champions Rangers in the league in May after losing to Inverness Caledonian Thistle away – he flourished.

He has won the Scottish title four times, the Scottish Cup on three occasions and lifted the League Cup once as manager. He has, too, excelled in Europe. The undoubted highlight was that unforgettable win over Barcelona back in 2012. But beating Lazio home and away this term was none too shabby either.

There was no guarantee he would still be in situ after two months never mind a decade given the situation he walked into at first; the Celtic players were playing poorly, being savaged by supporters and the media alike and lacking in confidence.

“It was obviously off the back of Tony leaving,” Lennon told the Celtic website yesterday. “I had to very quickly assemble a team together as well. It was myself and Johan Mjallby. He was in Stockholm at the time but he answered the call very, very quickly.

“We just had to get an improvement in the team, get some wins and boost the morale of the players and the supporters as well.

“It was so different from the second time taking over last year, where everything was so successful. It was the polar opposite, where we were struggling, we were inconsistent and the league had already, more or less, gone.”

The infamous defeat to County, the Highland club who ran out richly deserved 2-0 winners at Hampden thanks to second-half goals from Steven Craig and Martin Scott, in April could have damaged his prospects of getting the job on a full-time basis. But, looking back, he feels the loss ensured a strong finish to the season.

“I was just very angry with the players,” he said. “They didn’t show the right attitude on the day and it was only my third game in charge. We’d beaten Kilmarnock and then Hibs, and then it was the semi-final at Hampden against Ross County.

“There was a lack of application and attitude on the day, and I came out and said some really strong words, but I meant it, and it seemed to have the desired effect for the rest of the season.”

Lennon would much rather that he and his players, who were 13 points clear at the top of the Ladbrokes Premiership with eight games remaining and set to take on Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final next month before the shutdown, were still playing matches and didn’t have to stay at home and follow training programmes.

Still, he appreciates the privileged if pressurised position that he is in and is able to look back on his two stints in the Parkhead hotseat with justifiable pride.

“I’ve been lucky enough to work at a club like this where, although you’re not guaranteed success, there’s a good chance of success,” he said. “You’re working with great coaches and players every day, and to get the job for a second period was amazing as well. So I’m just absolutely thrilled with the way things have gone.”