By Alex Stevens

John Hartson has backed Neil Lennon to return to Celtic and become the new manager in succession to Ronny Deila.

Norwegian Deila, who succeeded Lennon in June 2014, has decided to step down after his position came under increased scrutiny following Sunday’s Scottish Cup exit to Rangers on penalties.

Former Celtic striker Hartson has told BBC Scotland that the club need a stronger manager and thinks his former team-mate, who was manager at Parkhead for four years, could fit the bill.

Lennon has already thrown his hat in the ring and said he would be open to a return to the club.

The 44-year-old northern Irishman, who left Bolton last month, led Celtic to three league titles, two Scottish Cups and the last 16 of the Champions League with a win ratio of 70 per cent.

“I’m not surprised, Neil puts himself forward for every job,” joked Hartson in an interview with BBC Scotland on Wednesday. “But Neil’s proven, I’m sure he would love the job. I sat next to Neil for five years in that Celtic dressing room, terrific little player, knows the club inside out.

“He’s been there before, if he’s willing to take it on again after all the issues from last time he was in charge.

“He had a difficult time at Bolton under difficult circumstances, the club were millions of pounds in debt.

“I would think the majority of fans would like to see Neil back, yes. If you want a man and you offer him the Celtic job, not many will turn that down. It’s a massive job.”

However, Hartson thinks Hibernian manager Alan Stubbs, former Manchester United boss David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers, formerly of Liverpool, are also likely to be interested in the vacancy.

“There’s the names that have been linked around,” Hartson added to BBC Scotland. “Or Celtic may go foreign, like they did with Ronny. I don’t know what the club will be thinking, but they’ll be getting together and going through the candidates.”

The Celtic news from earlier on Wednesday is that Deila will leave Parkhead at the end of the season even though he is on the verge of steering the club to a fifth consecutive league title.