It was a clear message to Neil Lennon’s squad that the club’s support will be willing their team with all their usual fervour in the crucial derby against Rangers despite not being in attendance at the stadium owing to Covid-19 restrictions.
For Mohamed Elyounoussi, playing behind closed doors has never closed the minds of anyone in the Scottish champions squad to the fact that they have a huge following that they must perform for. “They don’t need to do that,” said the Norwegian international of the gesture. “We know they’re behind us. And they should know that we’re going to do everything in our power. But, of course, we appreciate it. And we’re going to take that feeling into the game.Everyone will prepare individually to give everything for the club, the team – and especially the fans. We appreciated these kind of things. But they should know we’ll give 100 per cent, either way.”
Elyounoussi appreciates that the vibe in the derby will be entirely alien because of the empty stands at Celtic Park. “There’s going to be a big difference with not having fans there,” he said. “Obviously it’s still not safe to have them back, so it is what it is. We would love to have our fans back and behind us for any game – but especially this one.
“But it doesn’t change a lot of the football preparation. We’re prepared for the game. But obviously, from the emotional side, to have them behind us would be nice. I mean, I have to be honest, as a player, if there is a game where the team is sitting deep and you’re trying to create something, you need some kind of a push. And the support can give you that push. They push you to go the extra mile, to create something.
“Football is about emotion, you know? We try to create that between ourselves on the pitch, with the performance. But it helps even more when you have stands full of supporters giving you that extra push. Yet you are so focused on the job. Even if we had 60,000 people there, I would still be focused on what’s happening on the pitch. I don’t really hear the noise, except when there’s a stop in the game. We can’t do anything about it. We can only focus on ourselves and the need to perform. We know that our fans are behind us, we know they’ll be watching the game from home – and that they are safe. That’s the most important thing. We know we have to fight for them and try to win the game for them.
“I mean, we are a team. We fight for each other, for the club and the fans. It’s a team sport and you win or lose as a team. It would be nice to have everyone available but I’m sure everyone is going to step up, we’re ready for the challenge – and we’ll do everything to help the team.”