Why Ange Postecoglou insists Celtic won't be drawn into a 'two-horse race' with Rangers
There seems an inevitability, based on innumerable historical precedents, that as the cinch Premiership race moves into the later furlongs it will be Rangers and Celtic galloping clear in pursuit of the title with the rest of the field some distance behind.
Celtic’s meeting with Hearts in Glasgow’s east end feels, then, like the opportunity for the home side to set in motion a familiar second half of the season. A victory for Ange Postecoglou’s men would see them lie second and a full five points clear of the Gorgie side, despite their opponents having played a game more. Ange Postecoglou has no truck with such a perception, though, in believing it is impudent and, more damagingly, self-defeating in the longer run.
“I think every game is a challenge,” said the Celtic manager. “That's where the priority is with me and if you start thinking you're only involved in a two horse race then there's no doubt, if it turns into a two horse race, you will finish second. That's because you've disregarded the rest of the field and I'm not going to do that and I haven't done that.
"Every game is a challenge, home or away. There are going to be things which happen within games. At the weekend [in the win over Aberdeen] we started well and then you get a penalty awarded against you and there was a challenge within that game. If you start thinking you can just focus on next week or that this one is not for us this week then it doesn't matter how many horses are in the race, you are definitely not going to finish first.
"I'm just not interested in people focusing on a two horse race as for me, every game is a challenge, particularly when games come thick and fast. I'm not going to disrespect any opponent and we're not going to think any opponent is going to be any simpler a challenge for us to solve than any other. It's the same three points and it's all about putting those three points in the bank.”
Yet, although Postecoglou sees the same danger and difficulty in each encounter, and recognises the challenges that will be posed by Hearts, he presents the greatest threat to his Celtic team as deviating from principles they seek to apply to every contest.
"It'll be a tough match against Hearts,” said the 56-year-old. “They have been very consistent, they have some excellent players, are well organised and have an outstanding goalkeeper. They have some speed up front and we are ready for that. Ultimately [though] it's about us and how we play our football, particularly at home, we need to put the opposition on the backfoot and dominate the game. We want to play in the opposition half and if we can do that then we give ourselves a chance of being successful.
"I see self-assurance and self-belief growing within the group and they are embracing what we are trying to do. We can only enhance that by focusing on ourselves, playing our football and finding our answers in that. Once you start reacting to different scenarios and different types of pressure, whether that's within the games themselves or from elsewhere, then there's the challenge.”
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