Celtic's papal privilege, new man at Rangers, huge injury blow ahead of Ibrox test, Hibs goal, pitch inspections - Scottish football news

Rodgers reacts to meeting the pope and Rangers have made a key appointment

Ahead of the weekend’s football, we talk you through some of the stories making the headlines this Friday evening:

Rodgers says meeting the Pope a ‘life achievement’

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has described his meeting with the Pope as a “life achievement”. Rodgers was part of a delegation of Celtic coaches, players and directors who were granted a private audience with Pope Francis on Wednesday morning, following their Champions League defeat by Lazio in Rome the previous night. Rodgers said: “It was obviously a real privilege for us all to have the invitation to go there. It was a really humbling experience and it felt like a life achievement to meet him. It was so nice, everyone that came out of the room that morning felt really privileged and really honoured.”

James Forrest during a Celtic training session at Lennoxtown.James Forrest during a Celtic training session at Lennoxtown.
James Forrest during a Celtic training session at Lennoxtown.

Rangers bring in Koppen from PSV as director of football recruitment

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Rangers have brought in Nils Koppen from PSV Eindhoven to head their player recruitment department. The 38-year-old was head of scouting at the Dutch side and will join the Light Blues as director of football recruitment on January 2, subject to a work permit. Koppen’s arrival will fill a void created by the departure of former sporting director Ross Wilson to Nottingham Forest in April.

Clement expects Rangers to show ‘best level’ against St Mirren

Philippe Clement is looking for Rangers to get back to their best against St Mirren on Sunday following their Europa League struggle against Aris Limassol. After that 1-1 draw, Rangers turn their attention back to cinch Premiership duty with the visit of third-placed Saints, and Clement’s side will be looking to keep the pressure on leaders Celtic, who are eight points ahead at the top of the table having played a game more. The Gers boss said: “It was the first time that I felt real disappointment in the dressing room, they were not happy with their performance. That is a good thing that they were not happy with their performance, but now we need to stand up on Sunday and show our best level, with what we are going to need to win that game. It is about making the mind-switch really fast every time and not to lose confidence for whatever reason, and go full out and get the three points from the first second the game starts. St Mirren will make a wall and make transitions and set-pieces like we have a lot of games in the Scottish league. So there will not be a big difference in that way and they are going to fight. For them, games against Rangers are maybe the biggest game of the season, so we know that.”

St Mirren's Ryan Strain is facing a long spell on the sidelines.St Mirren's Ryan Strain is facing a long spell on the sidelines.
St Mirren's Ryan Strain is facing a long spell on the sidelines.

Strain injury a blow for St Mirren

St Mirren are set to be without Australia international Ryan Strain for three months. The wing-back is due to undergo surgery on the groin injury he suffered on international duty last month. Manager Stephen Robinson said: “Ryan has gone to London for surgery. He will have surgery on Monday and unfortunately he will be in the region of three months, which is a huge blow for us. But it’s up to other people to step into the plate now. We have a small squad which is tested to the limit with injuries, especially long-term ones, but we are no different to anyone else. I don’t work on the excuse mentality, I try and work on the basis that someone else will get an opportunity to prove they should be in the side and make up for Ryan’s loss.”

Marshall hoping for hat-trick of Hibs wins

David Marshall has challenged Hibernian to endorse the progress he feels they are making under Nick Montgomery by defeating Aberdeen on Sunday to make it three wins in a row for the first time this season. The Easter Road side have lost only two of their 12 matches in all competitions since Montgomery replaced Lee Johnson as manager almost three months ago. Five of those games ended in draws but victories over Kilmarnock and Dundee either side of the recent international break have helped the Hibees climb from the bottom six to fifth in the cinch Premiership. “We’ve had a lot of draws in the league but the performances have been really good,” said goalkeeper Marshall, reflecting on Montgomery’s reign so far. “We’ve dropped some late points, we could have at least five extra points on the board but I think you’re seeing signs of what the manager and the staff have been working on for the past 10 or 11 weeks. I feel like the squad is learning and taking on board what the manager is wanting us to do. We’ve just had our first back-to-back wins in the league this season so hopefully we can follow that up on Sunday.”

Hearts defender Stephen Kingsley.Hearts defender Stephen Kingsley.
Hearts defender Stephen Kingsley.

Robson knows Aberdeen need their fans during tough run on the road

Aberdeen manager Barry Robson has told fans their continued support will be much-needed on Sunday as his side prepare for their seventh game on the road in eight matches. The Dons quickly sold out their 1,500 allocation for Thursday’s Europa Conference League game against HJK and fans braved snow and -5C temperatures to cheer their team to a 2-2 comeback draw in Helsinki. Aberdeen have won two, drawn two and lost two games on their travels in amongst a home draw against Rangers as their schedule has taken them to Hampden, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Thessaloniki and Celtic Park as well as the Finnish capital, and now a trip to Edinburgh to take on Hibernian. Robson, who made eight changes to his starting line-up in Finland, said on the Aberdeen website: “The games on Sunday after Europe have been difficult for us, but we’re looking forward to Hibs on Sunday, which will be our seventh game out of eight away from home. I’ve been in the game 30, 40 years and I’ve never seen that before. It’s as hard a schedule as anybody in Europe will have, but that’s created a bond in the squad, we’ve stayed in the fight, and that will help us going forward. I have never seen that in my whole career and the fans have helped us with that, and we need them again on Sunday. A lot of other teams would never have coped with that the way it is but they are going to be there again for us on Sunday and we are going to need them.”

Kingsley urges Hearts to start taking games ‘by scruff of the neck’

Stephen Kingsley hopes improving Hearts can become more emphatic winners as they bid to assert themselves in the race for Europe. The Jambos have climbed to fourth in the cinch Premiership after three successive league victories by a one-goal margin. Hearts have comfortably the best defensive record in the league outside the Old Firm, with six clean sheets and only 12 goals conceded in their 13 matches. However, Steven Naismith’s side have scored only 13 times, with only three teams, Ross County plus the bottom two of St Johnstone and Livingston, netting less. “One thing we’ve spoken about, even though we’ve had three good results recently, is that we need to score more goals,” said defender Kingsley. We’ve done well defensively and kept a lot of clean sheets this season, so the next thing is to go and really take it by the scruff of the neck and kill teams off as early as we can and make it more enjoyable for ourselves.”

Livingston-Ross County facing pitch inspection as weather hits SPFL matches

Livingston’s artificial surface faces an early-morning pitch inspection after three other Scottish Professional Football League matches were postponed ahead of the weekend. Cinch Championship leaders Dundee United have seen their trip to face Morton at Cappielow called off while the game between Ayr and Arbroath at Somerset Park is also postponed. The League 1 clash between Stirling and Montrose at Forthbank will also need to be rescheduled after falling foul of the freezing temperatures. Livingston stated that the SPFL had requested a pitch inspection at 9.30am on Saturday ahead of their cinch Premiership clash with Ross County.