NOW firmly established on the comeback trail after a shoulder injury, Adam Matthews has his own hopes and ambitions for the future at the start of another year.
However, the Celtic full-back yesterday stressed that he would prefer it if Joe Ledley, his compatriot and brother-in-arms, remained at Parkhead to share in any future success.
With the transfer window having opened at midnight, the focus will fall on Ledley and Georgios Samaras, who are both out of contract at the end of this season, as Celtic look to extend their unbeaten run against Partick Thistle this afternoon.
The pair have been offered new deals but so far have not made it known whether they plan to re-sign or not. If they do not, then Celtic will be keen to move them on this month and hope to pick up fees for the players, who can leave for nothing in the summer. Ledley has long been linked with a move to the English Premier League. Due to turn 27 later this month, the player is aware that the next contract he signs is a significant one in his career, and some Celtic supporters fear he has already been persuaded to move south. Despite being so close to his fellow Wales international, Matthews is offering no clue as to whether he knows what Ledley’s intentions are.
Rather, Matthews simply expressed the hope that Ledley might extend his stay at Celtic, the club he joined in 2010. Matthews arrived a year later, reuniting with the player following their time together at Cardiff City. Ledley again showed what a loss he would be with a tirelessly efficient performance against Inverness Caledonian Thistle on Sunday as Celtic made it to the turn of the year unbeaten in the league this season.
“He has been a brilliant player since he came to Celtic,” said Matthews. “He is a mate of mine as well, so hopefully he will put pen to paper on a new contract.
“He showed in Inverness that he works really hard in midfield, where he and Scott Brown have a great partnership. So if we can keep him at the club that would be very good news.
“I haven’t spoken to him about the details, it’s up to him now,” added Matthews. “But I hope he signs and stays in Glasgow.”
Cardiff City, who lost Ledley to Celtic in a freedom of contract move three years ago, are one of the clubs credited with an interest in the midfielder, as are Everton and Crystal Palace.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise at all if there were clubs down south having a look at him because he has been a great player,” said Matthews. “He showed he can play at the very top level in the Champions League time and again. I think a club like Celtic needs to keep all of our top players and Joe is definitely one of them.”
Keeping hold of Ledley will certainly help in Celtic’s aim to complete the season unbeaten in the league. Some will feel that this record is not likely to be threatened by the arrival of Partick Thistle at Parkhead this afternoon – particularly since Alan Archibald’s side have just been beaten 5-1 at home by Motherwell. However, Matthews stressed that the home League Cup defeat by Morton – Celtic’s only reversal on the domestic front this season – still acts as a cautionary tale, while, he added, the coaching staff are always urging them to “keep on top of our game”.
Rather than being disrespectful, the constant talk of remaining unbeaten is one way of ensuring that the players are firing on all cylinders in the absence of any genuine competition at the top of the league. “We want to keep it going for as long as we can,” said Matthews.
Celtic have the further motivation of extending a consecutive run of clean sheets, which currently stands at six domestic games. “If we keep a clean sheet in the next game that’s seven – that’s almost a club record,” he said. “So the players have plenty of incentive.
“It’s going to be tough because everyone is going to want to end the run when they play us and step it up another 10 per cent.”
Successive 1-0 victories away to St Johnstone and Inverness indicate that Celtic are not having it all their own way at present.
“It was a tough one for us in Inverness,” agreed Matthews, who noted manager Neil Lennon’s comment that Celtic are not being given the credit they deserve for overcoming dogged opponents who are desperate to be the first to claim their scalp in the league this season.
“The three points was the most important thing and while we didn’t play well we got there in the end,” Matthews said, with reference to the most recent win in Inverness.
“Everyone who plays us steps up their game so we have to be on our game every week. I don’t know if you think about it at the start of the season.
“At that point you just want to get a good start and kick on. But once you win more games and keep on going you want to win as many as possible. So our aim is to go the full season unbeaten. It’s going to be tough, but I think we can do it.
“It’s not easy when you play away on some of the pitches you have to deal with. You can’t play flowing, passing football so you have to adapt and we started the game really well in Inverness before they put us under pressure. We had to defend well again and we’ve done that all season.”
Meanwhile, Lennon is hopeful that this afternoon might see an increase in numbers at Parkhead for what is, after all, a Glasgow derby, following recent poor crowds for Celtic domestic fixtures.
“I think Partick will bring a few,” he said. “With it being the festive season we will hopefully get a good turnout from the home crowd as well.
“I think it will be a decent atmosphere and the players will feed off it.”
Lennon would not be drawn on the subject of Thistle full-back Aaron Taylor-Sinclair, who has been linked with the Parkhead club – with reports suggesting he was set to sign a pre-contract deal with Celtic this month.
“It’s nothing to do with me, I don’t know where the speculation has come from,” said Lennon.