Brendan Rodgers is desperate to keep Ryan Christie at Celtic after the half-time substitute emerged as the holders’ Betfred cup hero at BT Murrayfield.
Celtic and Hearts were deadlocked going into the second half when Christie came on to replace Olivier Ntcham. Fewer than 20 minutes later Rodgers’ side were three goals in front, with Christie earning a penalty for the first, drawing a mistake from Hearts goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal for the second and then scoring the third himself with a well-hit strike.
“He’s someone that of course we would look to commit to,” said Rodgers. “The club have been talking to his representatives but I’m not aware of any movement.
“I tend to focus on working with the players. He is in his last year but we have had other players like Stuart Armstrong, where my focus is on making them better as players, giving them a future here to be involved and be a part of. Hopefully then the other stuff can sort itself out. He is definitely a player that we would love to keep. He is a fantastic player. You saw his contribution today.”
Christie, pictured, is in the last year of his contract at Celtic after spending the last season-and-a-half on loan at Aberdeen. Yesterday’s game-changing introduction was his 11th appearance of the campaign and his most dynamic. His first goal for Celtic since August 2016 has come at just the right time as Rodgers begins to ponder what the future holds for the midfielder. Christie is permitted to sign a pre-contract elsewhere from January.
“You saw it at Aberdeen when he was there,” said Rodgers. “It was step-by-step but now he is 23. He is at a really good age to come in and have the personality to play at a big club. He did well against Leipzig so he can make a valuable contribution to this team.”
Rodgers noted Hearts’ misfortune in losing Steven Naismith, who felt a twinge in his knee, just eight minutes into the tie. “You do not like to see that happen to good players especially on an occasion like that,” he said.
Celtic had to make an enforced substitution of their own in the first half when Eboue Kouassi was replaced by Scott Sinclair. Kouassi had injured his knee but was also involved in a clash with Hearts striker Steven MacLean, who appeared to grab his genitals at a corner kick. MacLean was in the headlines last week for admitting he hoped Celtic would be “pumped” by RB Leipzig last Thursday night as it might hand Hearts an advantage yesterday.
“He does some strange things Steven MacLean and says some daft things as well,” said Rodgers, who denied the player’s comments had given Celtic extra motivation. “He’s competitive and an experienced player. He’s done really well for Hearts since he’s come in. He was probably frustrated during the game.”
Craig Levein was particularly disappointed at Naismith being forced off so early in the game since as well as hampering Hearts’ chances yesterday it means he is likely to miss Wednesday’s derby at Tynecastle against Hibs. Midfielder Peter Haring is also almost certainly out after aggravating a hernia complaint on his comeback appearance. “If Brendan was to have picked one Hearts player he could have taken off then I’m sure he’d have picked Steven,” said the Hearts manager. “And if the opposition manager thinks like that about one of your players then generally I’d assume that’s the one he was worried about. It happened within five minutes of the game starting. He said he felt something go in his knee and he didn’t know what it was.
“We had Peter Haring struggling with his hernia at half-time – I was hoping to get him off at some point and couldn’t manage it,” he added. “So I think he’s struggling now for the next couple of games. Clevid [Dikamona] then got a dead leg towards the end as well. Once the final whistle went my main concern is looking towards Wednesday and see who is available.”
Levein was frustrated by the manner in which the penalty that saw his side fall behind was conceded. He felt Oliver Bozanic had not complained enough after Christie went down after minimal contact.
“It was very soft, I think,” he said. “When you watch it again, Bozanic’s foot isn’t even off the ground. Christie is just waiting on it. But it’s given Willie [Collum] a decision to make. I don’t think Oli protests enough even at the point where
Willie isn’t sure.”
Levein defended goalkeeper Zdenek Zlamal, whose error from Christie’s shot allowed James Forrest the chance to slam in the rebound to put Celtic two goals in front. “It’s an uncharacteristic error,” he said. “But we’re human beings and we make mistakes.”