CALLUM McGREGOR spoke of his delight at repaying the manager’s faith in him by scoring the all-important winner in last night’s hugely enjoyable 1-0 victory for Celtic over the big spending Zenit St Petersburg.
The 24 year old midfielder was making his 150th appearance for the club and celebrated in some style by scoring what he regards as the best gaol of his career.
“I really wanted to make my mark, especially when the manager puts his trust in you for the big games,” an excited Calmac said afterwards.
There’s a little insecurity on show from the player who has had a section of the support on his back on one or two occasions previously. That criticism seemed to die down as the team moved towards the Invincible status and McGregor played a huge part in that – the two goals against Rangers at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final and the 5-1 win at Ibrox certainly helped win over his last remaining critics.
But they had found their voice in the past few months as McGregor and many of his team-mates actually fit enough to play, struggled to reach the form they showed last season. So last night McGregor had much to prove and certainly did so in grand old style.
“You’ve got to prove to everybody he was right to pick you,” he said.
“So, first and foremost it was a great team performance,. But I was obviously delighted with my performance.
“To get the goal to win the game was, of course, particularly great.
“It was a great ball from Charly, the wee man’s got that quality and he’s showed it since he came in.
“He spots a great pass, he’s lofted one over and I’ve taken it on the chest. I tried to hit it early and thankfully it’s gone in.
“To be fair, I just swing a leg at it!
“We’d put a lot into it by then, but high pressure football’s the way we want to play, especially on these kinds of nights where you want to get the crowd right behind you and the opposition start to get nervy.
“We were set up with an excellent game plan and the boys carried it out really well.
“We’re happy with a clean sheet and would’ve taken a zero zero to take over there. But we’re absolutely delighted with a 1-0.
“It was a great pass for me. I stumbled a bit off balance and it was about still trying to control it and get set for a finish. I’ve taken a swing at it.
“Thankfully it’s gone in.
“I think it’s my best European goal in terms of a finish.
“I’m obviously delighted to get the finish and I’m always trying to add that to my game – goals in big games.
“That’s where you are judged, in the big games, and it was great to get another goal.”
McGregor revealed that Celtic were determined to take advantage of any post winter break rustiness in the Russian legs.
“We knew Zenit were just off the back of a break and sometimes teams coming here can be really uncomfortable in the first 20 minutes.
“We set the tempo with that, by getting up and pressing and when we had the ball we played really well. We grew in confidence, they started to tire a little bit and we got the goal so it was a perfect game plan for us.
“Especially after the Anderlecht game there was a lot of criticism chucked at us.
“We knew on the night it wasn’t great but the objective was to try to qualify from the group.
“It was important to get European football after Christmas and obviously we did that.
“This being our first game back there was a bit of pressure on the lads. So I thought we answered it brilliantly with the way we pressed the game and the way we played.
“I thought the performance was excellent.
Reacting to the news that the SFA had appointed a new manager, McGregor hoping that he will be involved.
“First and foremost I’m looking at my Celtic stuff and the international stuff is always a bonus.
“But there’s a new manager tomorrow and hopefully if he watches that I have made a decent impact.”
— Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) February 16, 2018