Celtic's Ange Postecoglou on facing managerless Hibs, Martin Boyle and training his team for cup finals

There are firsts tied to the Premier Sports Cup final for Ange Postecoglou the Celtic manager can luxuriate in.

Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou was speaking at a Premier Sports Cup event. Premier Sports is available on Sky, Virgin TV and the Premier Player from £12.99 per month, and on Amazon Prime as an add-on subscription. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou was speaking at a Premier Sports Cup event. Premier Sports is available on Sky, Virgin TV and the Premier Player from £12.99 per month, and on Amazon Prime as an add-on subscription. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

His first trophy decider in Scotland, the confrontation with Hibs provides the opportunity to mark his tenure with silverware at the first possible opportunity. Then there is a first attached to the occasion that discomfits him.

As far as the Australian is concerned, when he leads his team out of the Hampden tunnel, he really should be able to look across at his opponents and see Jack Ross heading up the Hibs party. Instead, with the Easter Road club removing him from his position 10 days before the final, it will be caretaker David Gray at his shoulder. That will be a new experience for Postecoglou.

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“I dont think that’s ever happened to me before,” said the Celtic manager about facing a stand-in with a trophy on the line. “I feel for Jack, to be honest. I think that our existence - well, not existence because nobody kills us - but our role, is dependent on results. We all realise that at some point if things don’t go well then potentially we could be removed. But you feel for him when he has got a team to a final, but is not there. It was so close so I feel for Jack and wish him all the best for the future.

“In terms of our preparation, I don’t think anything changes. They made the change a couple of weeks back and have had a couple of games since. We have been able to analyse them. They are still the same team, they are still a very dangerous side. They have real quality up front and showed that in the semi-final [win over Rangers]. We will have to make sure we are prepared for it.”

The then caretaker-led Ibrox side proved entirely unprepared for Martin Boyle ripping it up in the last four victory. The winger’s hat-trick would seem to make him the foremost player Celtic will require to starve of possession. Postecoglou doesn’t need anyone to educate him in the potential potency of the 28-year-old attacker, though.

"He was outstanding [in the semi-final],” said the 56-year-old. “I thought the whole side were, particularly first 45 minutes. They really took the game to Rangers and probably surprised them a little bit with just the intent and the tempo they played. Martin was there to get the rewards and he was outstanding. I obviously know him well, he plays for the Australia national team and he is a threat, but we have always tried to deal with these things in a collective sense. If we play our football and are dominant the way we have been, then we limit the opportunities for any player in the opposition to cause us problems - whether they have pace or strength or whatever it is they bring, it will still come down to us controlling the game so it's played on our terms. And that's what we will try and do on the weekend.”

Postecoglou doesn’t disagree that snaring the League Cup could give propulsion to Celtic’s season and lift them for a title challenge that will see them play four cinch Premiership games before the winter shut-down in a fortnight - culminating in a hosting of league leaders Rangers for the new year derby. Yet, even as he recognises that the final is the opportunity for a new team, an entirely new football set-up at Celtic, to make their first indelible mark, it isn’t lost on him that what is being asked of them at Hampden is a standard requirement for a club that have hoovered up 12 of the past 15 domestic honours.

“It is kind of a new beginning,” he said. “But we all know, even the ones who have just come this year, what the expectations are when you represent this football club: it is that you bring success to it. I have tried to make sure all along that I am not going to make allowances for me or for the players of this team who are new, [say] that we can’t be successful [in the short term]. We have been really strong on that. We have our first opportunity to have success and if you can have success that builds even further belief in what we are doing. At the same time, that is the expectation. We come to this football club understanding that silverware is expected every year, and in every competition that you participate in you are expected to try and be successful. This is our first opportunity and I hope we can take it.”

Celtic’s approach to doing so will be informed by Postecoglou’s successes in his homeland…as he says is every single day on the pitches at Lennoxtown. “In Australia, championships get decided in finals,” the Celtic manager said. “I won two as a player and four as a manager and they all got decided in a grand final, or in a game. I understand it. Because of that, I have always tried to build teams in a style that will stack up in big games. It may sound a little bit bizarre, but because that is how things got decided in Australia that is how I train my teams…so when the big game comes along our football stacks up, the way we prepare stacks up. Coming into this game hasn’t been any different here – the way we train every day, the way we talk, the way we plan ourselves is so we are ready for the big occasion.

“It is a big occasion, there is no point trying to downplay it. I have never felt that works for me with the players I work with or the staff. Telling them it is just another game doesn’t work. They will figure out pretty quickly when they walk out at Hampden on Sunday it is not another game; it is a big game. I don’t want them to fear that, I want them to embrace that. That is the way I talk to them. When we go over the line on Sunday we have got to be at our best.”

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