Brendan Rodgers is adamant that Celtic will enjoy the same post-shutdown upswing in the second half of the season as helped propel them to a clean sweep 12 months ago.
The Premiership leaders’ pursuit of an unprecedented ‘double treble’ opens on a new front this afternoon as they begin their quest to retain the Scottish Cup with a fourth-round tie against Championship strugglers Brechin City.
The Celtic manager says there will be no room for complacency despite the fact Darren Dods’ side are the only team across Scottish and English senior football not to post a league win this season. He doesn’t expect any laxness from his side and is looking for the sort of form they produced after last year’s winter break, when they racked up ten straight wins for the loss of three goals. That contrasts with only five wins from their nine games going into this shutdown.
“We’ll definitely be a lot fresher. I think it’s natural,” Rodgers said, having taken his team to a training camp in Dubai last week to recharge their batteries. “The players did brilliant to get through to that point of the season, and through December, when it was demanding, a real burden on your physicality and mentality. But they came through it well, finished the league eight points ahead. We played a large chunk of the games in that period and now we can recover and get ready for the second part, where we’ll play a lot less games.
“And if I trace back a lot of our success, a lot of it is also with the spirit in the group and we were able to reinforce that when we were away.
“Last year when we came back, we were away [against Albion Rovers] and played well, got the win and that set us on the way to winning the trophy. I have studied Brechin and watched them, and though they are at the bottom of the league, haven’t won a game and have four draws, when I look at the team, they are playing for the manager. It is not as if it is a team that is downing tools and not working for him.
“They are a team that is part-time in what is predominantly a full-time league. The guys there are giving their all. It doesn’t mean we disrespect them. We expect to go into the game, work well and get through.”
Rodgers said he does not “think or worry about” a shock happening. But he does have experience of being on the receiving end of one. That came in January 2013, when his Liverpool side were beaten 3-2 by League One Oldham in the FA Cup.
“I changed the team around quite a lot for the FA Cup,” recalled Rodgers. “It wasn’t the first game [in the competition] because we had beaten Mansfield away, Daniel Sturridge scoring his first goal, and then we played up in Oldham away from home. There were a lot of changes and we were punished for it.”