Ange Postecoglou plays down Celtic defence concerns ahead of Rangers trip despite Alkmaar calamities

Ange Postecoglou credited his players for their resolve as his Celtic side earned “hugely important” Europa League group stage football after an incredibly fraught evening in Alkmaar.

Celtic coach Ange Postecoglou reacts during the Europa League play-off match against AZ Alkmaar (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

A 3-2 aggregate success earned despite a 2-1 defeat over an AZ side that threw everything at them, the Australian refused to castigate Joe Hart and Carl Starfelt for the calamities that cost two goals in the opening stages after a Kyogo Furuhashi strike had put the Parkhead side into a seemingly unassailable position in the third minute of the play-off return leg.

Hart’s inexplicable dallying with a required clearance and then Starfelt’s wild own goal had Celtic threatening to buckle, only for the 34-year-old keeper and the Swedish centre-back to later redeem themselves for Postecoglou.

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“They were two pretty terrible errors but I guess that’s what happens. They are two human beings, they are going to make mistakes,” said the Celtic manager. “What was more important for me was what we did after and how we reacted.

“We lost our way a bit in the first half trying to recover from that and they got momentum. We started well, we scored the goal and started playing really brightly. But the two goals set us back. The second half we dug in when we had to. Joe was obviously disappointed with the first half mistake. But he made a couple of outstanding saves. Carl defended really strongly in the second half. Mistakes are a part of football, it’s the reaction to them that’s important.

“It was a different type of performance. In the second half we had to dig in. When you give away two goals, you know the opposition’s going to have confidence and momentum. But it’s great we showed that resilience and the players got their rewards for it.”

Postecoglou wouldn’t fixate on the perception he now has defensive frailities to sort out before the Sunday’s trip to Ibrox for the first pivotal derby of the season.

“I get it that people tend to look at things in isolation and two players made mistakes tonight but that’s not how I view it,” he said. “I look at the overall picture and thought that, for the most part, we defended OK and it was individual errors which cost us: their goals didn’t come from defensive breakdowns. Both of those players recovered from those errors and went on to contribute to our victory. We’ll keep working on things. I’ve already said we’re not the finished product – we can’t be at this stage. You need to keep things in perspective: it’s been a massive month for us and we have yet another big game on Sunday. It’s been an extraordinary four weeks when you think about what we’ve done in that period of time.”

Meanwhile, with a shoulder injury that forced Greg Taylor off in the first half and is likely to threaten his involvement at the weekend, Celtic captain Callum McGregor had glowing commendations for his understudy Adam Montgomery, with the 19-year-old excelling in invidious circumstances.

“He was brilliant, for a young kid to come into that environment given the scoreline and the magnitude of the game,” McGregor said. “He stood up, he showed personality, quality, he showed he could defend 1v1 as well, he showed he can defend at the back post. He did ever so well to defend the one where the boy slid in at the back post. He showed everything about his game and I am super proud of him, super pleased for him. He’s a great kid and he’ll just keep getting better.”

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