No regrets for Brendan Rodgers over changes as Celtic stall

Brendan Rodgers insists he fielded a strong team against St Johnstone. Picture: PA
Brendan Rodgers insists he fielded a strong team against St Johnstone. Picture: PA
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Brendan Rodgers insisted he had no regrets over fielding a radically changed starting line-up against St Johnstone as Celtic dropped two points at home to the struggling Perth side.

Ahead of this week’s Europa League last 32, second leg trip to face Zenit St Petersburg, Rodgers made seven changes to his side.

In addition to suspended captain Scott Brown, a number of first team regulars including Jozo Simunovic, Kieran Tierney, James Forrest and Moussa Dembele were named among the substitutes as the champions were held to a goalless stalemate by Saints.

Mikael Lustig and Olivier Ntcham missed out through injury and illness respectively but should be available on Thursday night as Rodgers’ squad take a 1-0 lead into the European return fixture in Russia.

Celtic still enjoy a healthy nine-point lead at the top of the Premiership, albeit not as commanding as the remarkable 27-point gap they had opened up at the same stage of last season.

“You have to be careful with so many big games and a big game on Thursday,” said Rodgers.

“Kieran, for example, has played nearly two seasons in one and I have to take the opportunities to give him a breather. After Thursday he has Aberdeen next Sunday and more big games follow from there.

“Scott is suspended, Mikael has a niggle on his Achilles that we couldn’t risk and Oliver was ill and couldn’t play.

“It was still a strong team we fielded. It was young, but strong and we just couldn’t get the win. It was probably a fair result.

“There were lots of positives in terms of players coming back, like Tom Rogic’s first game in three months and Calvin Miller getting a game. I had to take the opportunity to play some of these guys, especially with so many injuries. They need game time for when they are needed.

“It’s always difficult after European games. Even if I had a full side out it would have been a tough game.

“We were maybe not quick enough in the first half, lacked a bit of creativity and didn’t work St Johnstone enough. The second half was a bit better. We created some big opportunities but failed to make the final pass or touch that would have got us the goal.”

Rodgers also questioned the attitude of the St Johnstone players in finding the levels needed to take a point at Celtic Park after a poor run of results which had seen Tommy Wright’s squad slip towards the relegation zone.

“There’s a question there for Tommy’s players,” added Rodgers. “He’s a fantastic manager and I am sure he walks away happy with a point today. But he’s probably also really frustrated.

“How can you win a game against Rangers at Ibrox 3-1 on 16 December and then not win again right through apart from the Albion Rovers game in the cup? Their next big result is away at Celtic. So the question is with the

St Johnstone players.

“They were committed, fighting, running. If they do that in every single match then they would win a lot more games.”

Wright admitted his team have lacked the consistency he is seeking but is hopeful their second point of the season from Celtic Park can help them push further away from the bottom of the table.

“We have had performances like this before. We had one at the start of the season here and not many teams are unbeaten after coming here twice,” said Wright. “We have had it against Rangers and Hibs but it hasn’t been often enough. This performance should give the players confidence to kick on.”