Celtic’s unbeaten run survived Brendan Rodgers’ tinkering against Dundee but something remained unchanged; the increasingly impressive centre-half partnership on which could hinge their attempts to keep creating history.
With the experienced and recently bench-confined Kolo Toure looking on, Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic continued to impress at the heart of the Celtic rearguard. Rodgers has threatened to make changes ahead of tonight’s home clash with Partick Thistle, so it’s possible their recent run of games together might come to an end. But, if so, Sviatchenko hopes it proves only an interruption.
He has again urged Simunovic to ignore interest from elsewhere as the transfer window looms once again, with Torino among those reported to be interested in the player. The defender was, of course, set to join the Italian club in the summer but the deal dramatically broke down shortly after the player’s medical test, much to Sviatchenko’s relief, as well as all others with Celtic’s interests at heart.
Simunovic has since proved he is over a troublesome knee injury that hampered his progress during his debut season in Scotland. Both he and Sviatchenko are providing the base on which Celtic are continuing to build towards breaking the Lisbon Lions’ record of 26 domestic matches unbeaten. The side have already surpassed Martin O’Neill’s run of 19 unbeaten domestic games at the start of his reign.
“A partnership develops over time and Jozo and myself have only been playing regularly together for around four months,” said Sviatchenko yesterday.
“I hope Jozo will stay and I think he will stay, so I’m not too concerned. I’ve been in a lot of partnerships throughout my career and this is one of the best. We complement each other well. He is never flustered and takes chances in his game and nine out of 10 times it goes in his favour.
“Jozo is also good with the ball and it’s all calculated,” he added. “I maybe have to be a bit more aware of the defensive part, which is why a lot of the building goes through the right side.
“I’m also working on my left as well because I also want to develop my game. It is a good combination of defensive aggression – we’re both quite brave – and also getting forward.
“But it’s about more than just Jozo and me and I must acknowledge the team around me who do so well, especially Craig Gordon, who deserves a lot of credit.
“Craig gives out that calmness. He’s always there and saves the ball. The way he manages the ball just now is at a really high level. For the team and everyone, it’s important we keep the momentum and to do that we need to keep as many players as possible.”
Celtic displayed their extensive squads options against Dundee. Despite the shake-up in personnel, Rogders’ side survived a late comeback from the visitors to make it 11 successive league wins. With up-coming games against Thistle and then Hamilton Accies, they can make it 13 before Christmas Day.
Rodgers has already confirmed he will make further changes to the side tonight, with skipper Scott Brown expected to return after suspension. But the manager will also consider giving more fringe players some game-time.
“Some players were given a chance against Dundee and it was great to see Ryan Christie and Gary Mackay-Steven coming off both wings and doing well,” said Sviatchenko.
“They haven’t been playing much but they came in and know the job because they have been training so well and everyone knows the job.
“When the team changes, the individuals still know their job within the team. It was also nice to get Scott Sinclair back and now it’s about him having game time and getting back to the level he was before.”
Sviatchenko has enjoyed discovering that unbeaten records are tumbling – with last week’s win over Hamilton securing Celtic’s best start to a domestic season under a new manager.
“I knew we were on a good run after our 19th game unbeaten against Hamilton meant we broke a record,” he said.
“Now we have made that 20 and hope to make that 21 against Partick Thistle. We will do everything we can to keep it going. I wasn’t aware that the Lisbon Lions hold the record of 26 games unbeaten at the start of a season, but it’s amazing – what a record. If we can keep this up, then we will have a chance to surpass that in the new year.
“The chance to break records doesn’t add an extra pressure,” he added. “We don’t think about it when we’re playing the game, it’s just about winning a match.
“But we also know teams are performing better and better against us. Dundee had a really good gameplan on Saturday and it was difficult at times. Sometimes we can win games beautifully and sometimes it’s a bit more fight but the team is showing different characteristics and that’s good.
“We need to be aware that teams will have eleven men in their own half at times and as a team we need to penetrate with runs and passes.”