Celtic's Brendan Rodgers keen for solid start in Gibraltar

Brendan Rodgers yesterday spoke of his pride ahead of his first game as Celtic boss against Lincoln Red Imps at the Victoria Stadium tonight.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers insists Lincoln Red Imps will be treated with respect. Picture: SNS.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers insists Lincoln Red Imps will be treated with respect. Picture: SNS.

After four unbeaten warm-up games in Austria and Slovenia the manager, who took over from Ronny Deila in May, gets his tenure under way for real against the part-timers from Gibraltar in the first leg of the Champions League second qualifying round.

Asked how he was feeling ahead of the match Rodgers, who ruled Norwegian midfielder Stefan Johansen out for “probably two or three weeks” with an ankle injury, said: “Very proud. I can’t wait for the game to get under way and get working and see the relationship between the game and the training we have been doing.

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“We have a long way to go before we are ideally where I want us to be at. Certainly all the signs so far make me think I am really looking forward to this season. It is going to be an exciting year for sure and it is nice to get off to this start and hopefully we get a good performance and result.”

Asked how he would approach this game against the semi-professionals, as opposed to a team such as Chelsea, the former Liverpool boss said: “There is no change. Celtic is always the big attraction, the big draw, the big club, we are very proud to take Celtic around the world for our supporters and players.

“Every game is a big game. There is no game that is any bigger or smaller. Of course you have a different level of opponent but for myself and the staff that doesn’t change in terms of our preparation and at Celtic there is a huge expectation on us to do well. So for us it doesn’t change.”

The Imps’ tiny stadium holds only 2,000 fans, around half of whom will be supporting the Scottish champions, and although Rodgers admits playing on an artificial surface is “never ideal” he is confident his side will cope.

He said: “The beauty of our boys is they have some experience of it back home, they play on some artificial pitches and what I have learned with this group is they cope with pretty much everything. They cope with long journeys, travel and they don’t bat an eyelid, they just get on with it because they are so keen to work and improve. I think it will be the same tomorrow.”

He added: “This game presents us with an opportunity early that we have to take.We have watched Lincoln, they are very workmanlike, they have won over the course of two games to play against us, so we will give them that respect.

“But the focus is on ourselves, it is a job that we have to do over the course of two legs.”

Lincoln Red Imps are taking part in only their third European campaign and captain Roy Chipolina described the prospect of playing against Celtic as “surreal”.

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Chipolina, a customs officer who will put in a full shift before the game, said: “Everyone connected to the club, from the players and staff, is excited, it is an amazing tie.

“The only word I can use to describe it is surreal. If you look at the history at our club, it has been mainly amateur and only became semi-professional three years ago when we were recognised by Uefa.When I look at the teams we have played before, and I mean this with all due respect, it does not get much better than Celtic. It is amazing for the whole of Gibraltar. I am really looking forward to this game and I hope we can put on a performance.”