Saturday’s disappointing stalemate at Easter Road with Hibernian signalled an end to one of the hardest run of fixtures Celtic have had in years.
The beginning of the new 2023/24 Scottish Premiership campaign has saw us visit all the toughest away venues in the country after the first round of games, yet we still stand unperturbed by it all clear in first place.
Pittodrie, Ibrox, The Toni Macaroni Arena, Fir Park, Tyncastle and Easter Road have all been visited by the Champions and they still sit five points clear of their nearest challenger in second spot. Much has been made of this uncanny run of away venues that the Bhoys have been presented with this year at random (supposedly), by the fixture list that is generated through SPFL the computer system.
Brendan Rodgers has even come out and pointed out the remarkable feat of giving Celtic an away match on Boxing Day (or at least the first game after Christmas Day) for the SEVENTH year in a row!
It doesn’t miss the Celtic manager, that’s for sure. Despite this extremely difficult run of matches for the Hoops, the gaffer has insisted that the lads have coped well given the circumstances and could easily have dropped more points on the road than just those in Leith this past weekend.
Brendan admitted that there are opportunities to be had for his young and aspiring group of players at Celtic Park, with an injury to Reo Hatate opening up a potential space in the central midfield area.
He was full of praise for highly-rated Portuguese star, Paulo Bernardo, who is looking to replicate the impact his fellow countryman and Benfica academy graduate, Jota, had at Paradise for two years.
“With Paulo, he’s a fantastic young professional who’s come in from a different country, adapted and settled really well,” said the manager, “and he’s really looking to take on board the football philosophy here in terms of how we want to play.
“He’s obviously played virtually the whole game against Atletico Madrid, and it was always going to be a challenge for him at the weekend, but for that first 60-odd minutes, he worked hard and did well. Over time he’ll get better and better, but we’ve also got David Turnbull and Odin who can come into that position as well.”
Rodgers laid down the gauntlet to his younger players and fringe men, asserting that the team needs them to step up and be counted with the games coming thick and fast.
He also added that mental fortitude is needed to succeed at Parkhead, with talent only one aspect. “So the opportunities are there and will be there for players, both in training and in the games, and then it’s just about taking those opportunities,” he argued.
“It’s all potential at the moment. When you want to be the top player, the number one factor is having the mental strength to get there. The talent will take you to a certain point but then it’s the mentality to improve and develop your game, and how you want to improve. And both guys (Bernardo & Holm), in the short period of time that I’ve seen them, look like they want to develop.”
Ahead of locking horns with a dogged and determined St Mirren side tomorrow night, who are going great guns under his fellow Irishman, Stephen Robinson, Rodgers was steadfast in his belief that it is a great fixture to help put the Hibs result behind us.
“The team that we put out is always to find the result, and it’s a great game for us on the back of a frustrating result. I think our game was okay – it was a little bit slow up until the last 20-25 minutes, but then we sped up the game and showed our qualities.
“As we sit here, 10 games in – eight wins and two draws – in a team that’s still developing and improving and with a real tough fixture list away from home, then the guys have done really well, but we’ve got to keep pushing.”
Matt Corr’s new book Majic, Stan and the King of Japan is out now and Neil Lennon, the Celtic captain that season, has written the foreword for us.
You can get a signed copy of the hardback version direct from Celtic Star Books by clicking on the image below. It’s also available an an e-book via Amazon Kindle and please note that all colour photographs that appear in the beautifully presented printed hardback book are also available in the Kindle version of Majic, Stan and the King of Japan…