Brendan Rodgers ‘150%’ certain Celtic were not ‘embarrassed’

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is confident his players will progress to the third qualifying round.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers is confident his players will progress to the third qualifying round.
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On the night they unfurl last season’s Scottish Premiership title flag, Celtic will seek to ensure the new campaign does not get off to the most calamitous start imaginable.

Since last week’s 1-0 defeat to the semi-professionals of Lincoln Red Imps in Gibraltar, debate has raged among pundits and punters alike over where it ranks in the catalogue of infamous Scottish football results.

So long as Celtic turn the tie around tonight and reach the third qualifying round of the Champions League, it will certainly not come to be regarded as the most ruinous 90 minutes they have ever experienced.

But Brendan Rodgers also remains defiant in his view, which caused a real stir last week, that losing in Gibraltar did not constitute an embarrassment for the Scottish champions.

“Yeah, 150 per cent,” replied the Celtic manager when asked if he still felt the same way after a week of reflection.

“I am working with a group of players who are so humble and have no ego. This is my first experience of coming in for pre-season and then you have your most important games of the season right at the start.

“I was disappointed with the result, of course. Everyone was. Results will always spark a reaction. For me, it has always been about getting the job done. The question is was I embarrassed by the players – no, I wasn’t.

“I have come in here and found they are a group of real good guys. They are doing their best, they work hard, they need help and support, and that’s what we are trying to give them.

“I am aware the supporters want to get through. That’s the most important thing. These games are always built up as walk-overs but there are not too many of them in modern football. It doesn’t matter who the bodies are, if they work in a bank or whatever, if you have 11 people behind a ball and they are fit enough they can make it very difficult for you.

“That was proven last week. So, of course, we expect to do better and we are disappointed. But even if we had won 1-0 last week it wouldn’t have been deemed a good result, so for me the job was always going to be finished at home and that’s what we aim to do. We are really looking forward to it. We are a week further down the line in our fitness and game preparation.”

On the wide open spaces of Celtic Park’s slick grass pitch, Rodgers expects a sharp contrast from the display his team delivered on the synthetic playing surface at the Victoria Stadium last Tuesday.

“Our problem was that the game was so slow because of the surface,” he added. “The players were taking one touch and had to, before they decided what they wanted to do. You think it should be 10-0 in a game like that but the reality of football is that doesn’t happen.

“Our job was to qualify and now we play the second half this week. The problem with modern football is that everything is shock, it’s the worst result in the world, it’s always the worst result in the history of Scottish football or whatever.

“As a manager I’ve never been one to get too carried away with a win. I never get too disillusioned when I lose. When I have players such as this group, and they do need some help, but at this period of the season when they are fighting for fitness, and the games are frontloaded, they are giving me everything.

“Apart from last week’s result, they could not have done any more since I walked through the door.”

Rodgers will demand his team perform at a high tempo immediately from kick-off tonight and provide an indication of how he intends Celtic to go about their business every week under his guidance.

“I want the hallmark of this team to be the the way they start games, the intensity of their play, how they press and squeeze.

“Hopefully, that’ll be the hallmark of the team, but we just need to prove to ourselves that we are improving and developing our game, while knowing it’s a game to qualify.

“We’ll look to get the result and the job completed. The job is about perspective. I know headlines need to be made and written, but I can’t afford to worry about that.

“The Lincoln home game is one where I would say we will have dominance. I was pleased with our friendly against Wolfsburg here on Saturday, the tempo was good and we looked comfortable in the first half – swivelling the team shape from offensive to defensive.

“The players coped well with that and have shown that tactically, they can take a lot on board. The speed of the game was good. We played forward, we were aggressive and we created chances. That’s only going to increase as they get fitter.

“As a coach, you want a team to be a team. You can be as nice as you want off the field and we have enough players who can be aggressive when we go on to it and can play.

“I talk about ego in the nicest terms. I want my teams to go into the pitch and play with arrogance, with dominance, have hunger.

“We have that, but the group are giving everything at this moment and I think they will show that on Wednesday night.”

Midfielders Nir Bitton and Stefan Johansen are both doubtful starters, while central defensive pair Dedryck Boyata and Jozo Simunovic remain unavailable.