The under-strength nature of the Celtic side that defeated his Kilmarnock team 2-0 yesterday brought no shame for Lee McCulloch over the latest loss to Brendan Rodgers side. That is because the Ayrshire club’s manager believes one of those understudies will have a starring role at international level in the not-too-distant future.
Anthony Ralston was given the right-back berth as Mikel Lustig started on the bench ahead of the formalities of a Champions League play-off second leg in Astana that Celtic will set out on this morning.
McCulloch described the 18-year-old – who scored in the 5-0 Betfred Cup defeat of his side almost two weeks ago – as a player who will go on to have the same impact as 20-year-old defensive counterpart Kieran Tierney, yesterday again deployed in central defence.
“What a player,” the Kilmarnock manager offered of Ralston. “After the 5-0 game I was asked how it felt to be beaten by such a young team but Anthony is going to be Scotland’s right-back soon in my opinion. That’s how good he is.”
Rodgers was equally enthusiastic about the progress being made by Ralston, right, who was part of an all under-21 defence with 19-year-old Kristoffer Ajer – six months on loan at Kilmarnock last season – partnering Tierney and 19-year-old Calvin Miller at left-back. Rodgers seems intent on using his second season in charge to develop players who have come through the club’s academy.
“I’m absolutely delighted with the integration of our young players; how they’re playing, how they’re working and how they’re fitting in to our ideas,” the Celtic manager said. “Anthony Ralston is 18 and yet you’d think he’s 28. His maturity in his performance, and how tactically aware he is, is great.
“I’m also delighted for Calvin. I saw the fruits of him last year and he’s a player who, from deeper, can push on. He’s quick and aggressive so he is really developing into a first-class young player. So it’s nice for his experience to get another start in the league and to play to that level.
“Kris Ajer showed his qualities and is improving all the time. So those three, along with Kieran, were great, along with young Benny [Kundai Benyu] who started too. They all worked cohesively with the senior players who have been brilliant in my time here. I just thought it was a real team effort today and I’m very pleased.”