Brendan Rodgers savoured Celtic’s dramatic progress to the Champions League play-off round last night but has urged the club’s supporters to cut his players some slack as they bid to complete their quest for a place in the group stage of the tournament.
The Scottish champions secured a nail-biting 2-1 win over Astana in the second leg of their third qualifying round tie, earning a 3-2 aggregate success, with a stoppage time penalty kick from substitute Moussa Dembele.
It was Celtic’s second spot kick of the night, Leigh Griffiths’ opener at the end of the first half cancelled out by Agim Ibraimi’s equaliser midway through the second period.
While Celtic Park was a scene of unbridled joy at full-time, there had been spells when the home fans vented their frustration in the direction of the home players
Rodgers said: “The only thing I would say to the supporters – and they were unbelievable tonight for us – is they need to show a bit of patience as well. I’m a Celtic supporter as well, I know how desperate they want it. But they put the players on edge at times tonight.
“In modern football, teams are organised. If you can’t play forward or sideways, you’ve got to come back. When you come back, you shouldn’t be on edge.
“You have to circulate the ball to provoke the other team to be disorganised and then hopefully score a goal. Instead of having that edginess, trust the players, trust their game model and how we work and eventually we can get there. Apart from that, it was a wonderful atmosphere, brilliant support and they pushed us over the line.”
Celtic will be seeded in tomorrow’s play-off round draw where they have five potential unseeded opponents awaiting them.
Croatian champions Dinamo Zagreb are the highest ranked side Celtic could face, followed by Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria, Danish champions FC Copenhagen, Hapoel Beer-Sheva of Israel and League of Ireland side Dundalk.
“We have one final step to go and will see what Friday brings us,” said Rodgers. “I’ve got no preference who we get but the shorter the distance for travel the better and I’d like the second leg at home.
“Tonight gives the players great belief and hopefully the supporters see the players are giving absolutely everything.
“I thought we thoroughly deserved to go through. We started the game with a great intensity and our pressing when we lost the ball, we got it back very quickly. We restricted them to very few chances and got the goal we deserved to go in front.
“We made a mistake, their guy had a great finish and then it’s a test of our character again. From what I’ve seen so far, these guys respond to the challenge.”