Celtic’s Carl Starfelt reveals how Hearts display brought him special first

A night of surprise and significance ensued for Carl Starfelt on the Celtic centre-back’s return from five weeks out with a hamstring problem.

Celtic's Carl Starfelt salutes the home support at the conclusion of the 1-0 home win over Hearts that claimed the Swede a career first. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Celtic's Carl Starfelt salutes the home support at the conclusion of the 1-0 home win over Hearts that claimed the Swede a career first. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The 26-year-old didn’t just answer an unexpected call against Hearts on Thursday in being told late on by manager Ange Postecoglou his injury comeback would require to be hastened following a personal issue that rendered Cameron Carter-Vickers unavailable. The Swedish international embraced the challenge with such aplomb that his exceptional display in his team’s 1-0 win delivered him a reward that had previously proven elusive in nine years as a professional footballer.

“The man-of-the-match award was the first of my career, so I’m happy,” he said. “You are never 100% sure about your fitness when you’ve been out and not played games and not trained so much, but I felt good. I don’t think I would have played against Hearts if Cameron was here but I was just happy that I could play and help the team get three points. I am not getting carried away with just one performance. I’ll continue to work hard but I think we are all finding a little bit of security in our system and we are on a good run now, so we have to keep enjoying playing football and keep winning games. That’s what we want to do.”

Celtic lived dangerously on occasion as they claimed a seventh cinch Premiership win of an unbeaten eight-game run in the championship. Ultimately, though, they secured only a third clean sheet in their past seven games in all competitions – despite the reshuffling over the course of the encounter necessitated by injuries to partner Stephen Welsh and right-back Anthony Ralston. Indeed, of Celtic’s back four in their first XI, only Starfelt ended up in the berth he started. In that context, he refuses to be overly concerned by Postecoglou’s team requiring to dig deep.

“As a defender, you know that the opposition will have chances and, against Hearts we were able to resist,” Starfelt said. “We also had great chances to score more. I’m more happy with the clean sheet and I think we showed some resistance at the end when they had one or two good chances. Everyone knows we want to dominate and have the ball but sometimes you have to show resistance because you will not dominate for 90 minutes. There are times you have to show something else.”

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Starfelt has shown himself to be a more accomplished performer than the faltering start to his Celtic career following his £4m move from Russian club Rubin Kazan led many to believe he ever would be. He has grown into the demands placed on him in Glasgow, even as the relentless nature of the programme has been entirely alien to him.

“I’m definitely not used to this, having played in different countries. I am used to playing a maximum of 35 games a year,” he said, Celtic guaranteed to face 53 with the potential to contest more than 60… depending on Scottish Cup and Conference League progress. “Sometimes it can be too much, if you get injuries for example, but I prefer to play games as it’s much more fun. I don’t think there has been a single week with only one game, but I am enjoying it.”

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