KRISTOFFER AJER has admitted he is not blameless as the wobbly Celtic defence comes under fire
Brendan Rodgers has been far from impressed by his back lot this season and the goal against FK Suduva emphasised the current anxiety of the manager and his players.
A routine free-kick spread alarm in the Hoops penalty area with keeper Craig Gordon failing to take control of the situation. Cristian Gamboa was unaware of the threat posed by Ovidijus Verbickas while centre-backs Jozo Simunovic and Ajer were rooted to the spot.
The inevitable outcome was a simple header for the Lithuanian from six yards to give his team a 1-1 draw before Thursday’s second leg in Glasgow where the champions will surely settle the argument in the fight for a place in the Europa League group stages.
Ajer, at only 20, is still learning the art of defending deep while combining urgent communication skills with his fellow back-four operators.
The Norwegian international, who is poised to play against Hamilton Accies this afternoon, said: “Everyone needs to take responsibility. I’ve played almost all the games this season and been part of conceding the goals.
“It doesn’t matter what age you are, you’re in with the rest of the team and you have to take the blame, too.
“When you’re playing you have a responsibility, especially here at Celtic. There is huge pressure in every game.
“We’ve conceded goals that should have been prevented. That’s something we need to look at and work on.
“We are working on that every day in training and we want to better that in the next games. We’ve just not been good enough at the decisive moments in our box. It’s something we need to improve.”
CENTRE OF ATTENTION… Kristoffer Ajer and his fellow-defenders have been in focus. Pic: Geo.
Without a Kolo Toure-type father figure, the ongoing unsettling effect of Dedryck Boyata and injuries to Simunovic and Marvin Compper, Ajer has already been forced to team up in Europe with the inexperienced Jack Hendry, the 23-year-old stopper signed from Dundee in January.
Ajer added: “I’m used to playing with all the centre-halves. We train together and there is a mixture in the team.
“I’m familiar with all the players. It’s just about getting into a rhythm and performing at a good level.
“I expect it of myself to show leadership. There are so many other leaders in the team from whom I can learn.
“At Celtic, you always have to perform and express yourself. That’s a natural part of playing for the club.
“We are such a strong squad and we know we can make mistakes and concede goals.
“We will never start blaming each other. Everyone has his job to do. It’s not only one guy or two guys at fault. It’s shared.
“It’s important to look at it, work on it and, hopefully, not do it next time.”
* DON’T miss this afternoon’s big match report in your champion CQN.