BEAMING Brendan Rodgers led Celtic to a 2-1 triumph over Rangers at Parkhead on December 30 in preparation of kicking off 2024 with an eight-point advantage over their nearest challengers.

The dip in the champions’ form with back-to-back defeats against Kilmarnock and Hearts had been addressed with a hardly-inspiring 2-0 home win over Livingston who were hurtling towards inevitable relegation from the top flight.

Kyogo Furuhashi and Liam Scales, with his solitary strike of the season, got the goals against the doomed West Lothian outfit and there was an altogether more illuminating performance at Dens Park on Boxing Day when Rodgers’ side responded to the manager’s promptings in the second-half with a breakthrough effort from Paulo Bernardo and a double from Mikey Johnston.

It was the Republic of Ireland international winger’s first goals for the club in over four years – and were his last for the campaign before he headed for West Brom on loan in January.

DERBY DELIGHT…Paulo Bernardo thumps in the opener against Rangers on December 30.

The focus, though, was Parkhead as 2023 edged to a close when a resurgent Ibrox outfit, with Philippe Clement in charge after replacing the axed Michael Beale in October, arriving in the east end of Glasgow on the back of an undefeated 10-game domestic run.

That sequence came to an abrupt halt when Bernardo, with his second goal for the Hoops since his loan arrival from Benfica in August, volleyed in a spectacular opener in the first-half.

The year had kicked off on January 2 in Govan with a goal from the Japanese fans’ favourite giving the Hoops a 2-2 draw against their nearest challengers on the team’s way to a second successive crown under Ange Postecoglou.

This time around, Kyogo rifled in the winner – his seventh goal against Rangers in a calendar year – and Rodgers enjoyed his twelfth triumph in 15 derby encounters with two ending in stalemate and sampling just one loss.

It ended 2-1 after James Tavernier had swirled in a late free-kick and a delighted Rodgers singled out Captain Marvel Callum McGregor for special mention.

BY THE LEFT…Kyogo Furuhashi curls the ball beyond Connor Goldson on its way past Jack Butland for Celtic’s winning goal.

The second time-around gaffer was quick to point to the overwhelming contribution from his inspirational skipper and said: “Callum’s on a different level to anyone on the pitch, with the greatest respect.

“The quality that he has, the idea of football that he has, how he leads the team is just absolutely incredible. When you need your top players to stand up, then he was there.

“I can’t speak highly enough of him. I saw him from my first time here where he contributed so well for me and this time he’s leading the team and he does lead it properly.

“It was a brilliant individual performance and I’m very, very lucky to have him here.”

Rodgers complimented each of his players who put in a good shift to get a deserved triumph, but another individual who caught his particular attention was Bernardo.

The Irishman continued: “I thought he was excellent and I thought when he came off the pitch we lost a little bit.

THAT’S MY BHOY…Brendan Rodgers hails captain Callum McGregor.

“I was just a bit worried that he was on a booking and he had a couple of challenges that looked like he maybe could have picked up another booking. You don’t want to go down to 10 men in these games. So we wanted to make that change.

“But it was a wonderful goal and he’s really progressing and developing well.”

Kyogo’s eyecatching matchwinner within two minutes of the restart also drew applause from Rodgers who added: “That’s what great strikers do.

“He’s maybe not been at his best over the course of the season, but, in terms of his goals, he’s only a couple shy of where he was last year.

“But when he can produce moments like that in big games – and that’s what he tends to do – then it’s absolutely great for the team and great for the supporters.

“It was a really good move and we worked the ball well through the pitch to one side and then back again – and his movement was class.

“And when you see it again, it looks like he’s going to go in behind, but then he comes short, swivels on it and it’s a brilliant finish.”

HAPPY NEW YEAR…Daizen Maeda steers Celtic first goal of 2024 past St Mirren keeper Zach Hemming in the 3-0 win in Paisley on January 2.

Celtic eased into the new year with a 3-0 success over St Mirren in Paisley on January 2 when two lightning strikes from Daizen Maeda and Matt O’Riley just about ended the game as a contest.

Greg Taylor made certain with a rare effort after the interval and Rodgers declared himself “more than satisfied” at the winning start to 2024.

Just under three weeks later, the Scottish Cup adventure got underway with a 5-0 victory over the Highlanders of Buckie Thistle in Glasgow where Bernardo lobbed in the opener and Odin Holm and Rocco Vata claimed their first goals for the Hoops. Kyogo and Luis Palma added the others.

Once again, though, there was an unexpected stutter in form as the hosts struggled to beat Ross County with an early goal from Alistair Johnston and two points were squandered in a 1-1 stalemate with Aberdeen at Pittodrie a week later.

Some dreadful defending allowed Bojan Miovski to put the Dons ahead before new Bhoys Adam Idah, on loan from Norwich City, and Nicolas Kuhn, a £3million recruit from Rapid Vienna, combined to allow the German winger to snatch the equaliser with a low drive that was deflected past Kelle Roos.

The hero of the afternoon in the north east was Joe Hart who defied Graeme Shinnie late in the game with a superb save when it looked as though the home side’s skipper was odds-on to score what would surely have been the winner.

JOY BHOYS…Adam Idah is joined by Anthony Ralston as he celebrates his winning penalty-kick against Hibs at Easter Road with Matt O’Riley about to join in.

The mood among the support was sombre and a midweek trip to Easter Road loomed where Hibs were threatening to pile on the misery.

Following a tension-laden encounter and a dramatic finale, Celtic emerged with three points after a vitally important confrontation.

Rodgers was left almost breathless in the aftermath of a tussle that saw two expertly-despatched penalty-kicks – one to the left and one to the right of David Marshall – from Idah to secure the win that restored the champions’ three-point advantage at the Premiership pinnacle.

The manager overcame his so-called Leith hoodoo with his first victory at the venue at the fifth attempt and the Irishman obviously thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

The Hoops gaffer said: “I’m pleased for the supporters – and I’m pleased to win at Easter Road for the first time!

“When I was assessing Adam before bringing him in, that was one of the key things – he’s taken six penalties out of six before, and he took one against Holland for the Republic of Ireland, a real pressure penalty.

HIB HIB HOORAY…Brendan Rodgers expresses his delight after the 2-1 win in Edinburgh on February 7.

“He’s confident and I can just see how he trains, as well. He knows he’s a penalty-taker, and against David Marshall, who’s a really experienced goalkeeper, I thought he finished it so well and I’m absolutely delighted for him.

“We got off to a great start in the game and got into some really good positions.

“I think throughout the night we lacked just that bit of creativity. We had enough of the ball, but we couldn’t quite break through their position lower in the field.”

The breakthrough goal came in the tenth minute after a five-minute hold up in play for Alistair Johnston to receive onfield treatment after receiving a mighty whack on the head in an aerial duel that invited referee Nick Walsh to immediately point to the spot.

The Canadian international defender was stretchered off and taken to hospital where he later celebrated his team’s success!

Idah maintained his composure before sending Marshall the wrong way with a sweeping effort from 12 yards.

Some sloppy play saw Stephen Welsh give away a free-kick in a vulnerable area and the defence didn’t clear Joe Newell’s ball to the back post that was nodded down for Dylan Levitt to drill low past Hart from the edge of the box.

But the visitors grabbed the points after VAR stepped in to order a review of a desperate tackle from Newell that sent Kyogo  crashing just inside the box.

Walsh scrutinised the incident on the touchline monitor before returning to the pitch to once more point to the spot.

Idah was calmness personified as he stepped up for the second time to thrash the award past the helpless keeper.

There was more joy for the Republic of Ireland powerhouse – and Celtic – as the season continued.
*TOMORROW: Don’t miss the nineteenth instalment of the remarkable Brendan Rodgers Story so far.
Click Here for Comments >

About Author