Ange Postecoglou on Celtic midfield wilting as Reo Hatate and Matt O'Riley substitutions addressed

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou addressed the apparent wilting of his midfield as he reflected on the topsy-turvy nature of the 1-1 derby home draw that was ultimately a decent outcome for his team.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou is animated on the touchline during the 1-1 draw with Rangers.  (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou is animated on the touchline during the 1-1 draw with Rangers. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

A fact illustrated by the Australian just stopping short of acknowledging that the tied scoreline over title rivals Rangers had placed them in an unassailable position in the pursuit of the championship.

Celtic will now take a six point lead and 19 goal difference advantage over Rangers into their three remaining cinch Premiership encounters - with a win at home to Hearts in next Saturday’s lunchtime fixture all required to effectively clinch the championship.

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Yet the position of Postecoglou’s men teetered in the closing stages against their Ibrox rivals. Unable to build on a first-half lead earned by a Jota strike through wastefulness in front of goal, Rangers - despite their Europa League exertions over Leipzig in midweek - grew in strength and potency with Reo Hatate and Matt O’Riley withdrawn on the hour looking leggy to be replaced by Nir Bitton and Tom Rogic in changes that unsettled the home team.

The encounter then pivoted with Fashion Sakala claiming a 67th minute equaliser before Celtic’s goal lived dangerously with the Zambian hitting the post. Postecoglou did not deny Hatate and O’Riley had run low on energy - as proved the case in the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden - but offered mitigation, and downplayed potential issues with the endurance of his players.

“Matty is 21 years old and for Reo this is his first sort of journey outside his own country and it has new challenges,” said the Celtic manager. “I have said all along that there is a relentlessness when you play for this football club and you can’t rest on what you did last week or even the last pass or the last action, it’s constant and it’s always there.

“But you are never going to build that into players if you shield them away from it. This year my thoughts were just to expose as many of our players to it as I could. Earlier in the year we were throwing guys in without even training and the expectations are still there, you have to perform.

“We will learn from it. I said to the players after the game, we have so much more growth to do as a football team. But you can’t question their character. Even when things aren’t going well they have found a way to hang in there, they have found a way to find that moment or that resilience to get the job done. To me that’s a lot harder to find than improving them in aspects of their play.”

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