The 3-1 defeat that the Norwegian champions inflicted in the first leg of the clubs’ Conference League play-off on Thursday doesn’t just make the Scottish Premiership leaders long odds to progress in Bodo on Thursday. The sobering beating suffered by Ange Postecoglou’s side provided them with a role reversal following 16 wins and a draw from their previous 17 outings. The Australian believes the challenge now for his team is to demonstrate they don’t have a glass jaw as he prepares them for hosting a Dundee side on Sunday that will be under the charge of Mark McGhee for the first time. A favourable bout, frankly, before their treacherous expedition to the Arctic Circle for an unlikely European salvage operation.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Postecoglou said. “Ultimately, this is part of football. You have got to take the knocks. It is not just about feeling good and going around beating teams. You have got to take a punch like you’re a good boxer and show, ‘okay, it happens to the best’. We have just got to dust ourselves off, not feel sorry for ourselves. The next challenge is Sunday, that is our focus. We want to continue our good form in the league and Sunday is an opportunity to do that.”
Following five January transfer additions, Celtic seem to have the depth to cope with the Thursday-Sunday programme necessitated by their European participation. Even without a more extensive pool, they negotiated such scheduling. Unbeaten in 20 top flight games, not since they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Livingston in September three days after losing our 4-3 in Seville against Real Betis, have continental exertions given way to domestic dfifficulties. Yet, Postecoglou stresses that a greater capacity to spread the workload within his squad isn’t in itself a guarantee of obtaining the performances demanded. Instead, one desired objective of ramping up competition for places is a hope it will push players to avoid being easily switched with any potential alternatives for their roles.
“We have more depth in the squad to be able to maintain the levels, but, at the same time, from our perspective you could have 1,000 players,” the Celtic manager said. “It’s about what the players do when they’re out there. We got through the first half of the season because the squad was really resilient. Some had to play with injuries, but we still maintained our levels. Just because we brought in extra players I don’t want people to think that they’re comfortable. I’m hoping a few of them don’t want to get rotated, I’m hoping a few of them want to keep playing and get disappointed when we leave them out. That’s the kind of attitude we need.
“Every challenge is a new one. This is another one for us. It is the first game we have lost in quite a while and how we react to it is obviously going to be important. So far this season we’ve reacted to challenges really well, but it’s another one and on Sunday we have to show the right kind of reaction.”