JAMES McCARTHY has been backed to be a success at Celtic, despite his false start.

The 30-year-old Republic of Ireland international midfielder made a disappointing first start for his boyhood favourites in the 1-0 loss at Livingston on Sunday.

McCarthy struggled on the dreaded artificial playing surface and was replaced in the 72nd minute as Ange Postecoglou’s outfit toiled to a dreadful result.

It was the Glaswegian’s first proper game since leaving Crystal Palace at the end of his contract in May and it may have been understandable that he failed to pick up the pace of the action right from kick-off. Hoops legend Pat Bonner revealed the middle-of-the-park operator had suffered from Covid infection in the summer, as CQN reported last week.

HOOPS AHOY…James McCarthy proudly holds aloft the Celtic jersey on the day of his signing on August 4.

Former fans’ favourite Stiliyan Petrov, the one-time Bulgarian midfielder, said: “It’s very difficult for any player coming in who hasn’t played in a long time. You need to be at full strength, so it’s been hard for him to hit the ground running.

“It’s going to take him time to build his fitness. We know he’s a good player. He’s played a lot of games in the top league in England, so we know he’s got it.

“But in football these days you have to run. It’s difficult if you are not match fit, but I’m sure the team behind Ange are working hard to get him up to speed.”

Petrov, who joined the Hoops in 1999, continued: “I got a shock when I came here, especially just how tough it could be away from home. When teams play against Celtic and Rangers, their performances go up 100 per cent.

IT TAKES TWO…James McCarthy and Albian Ajeti celebrate the striker’s second goal in the 3-0 win over Ross County.

“They raise their game and fight for every single second on the pitch. I found it really difficult at first. It wasn’t just me, either. We have seen lots of players coming from England or abroad and finding it difficult to adapt.

“It took time for me to adapt and it will be the same for these new players.

“Don’t forget, when I first came in I played with a very experienced team. I was surrounded by characters, international players who had played at high levels.

“This is a brand new team with a lot of young players. When I played I had people around me telling me what to do and pushing me on.

“This is a young, inexperienced team that will take time to gel. They have played well at times, but they are inconsistent. I think we have to expect it.”

McCarthy, who agreed a four-year deal last month, may get the opportunity to show the form more associated with a player who earned 43 caps with his adopted country against Raith Rovers in the League Cup quarter-final at Parkhead tomorrow night.

CAPTAIN’S ROLE…Callum McGregor is crucial to Celtic.

Skipper Callum McGregor has missed the last two games against Real Betis in Seville and Livi at West Lothian with a hamstring injury and Postecoglou won’t rush his back for the encounter with the Championship club.

Petrov, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “Callum has been instrumental at Celtic – and not just this season. We’ve seen how much of a miss he is when he’s not there.

“He has really matured as a player, you can see he leads the boys in the right way since he took over from Scott Brown as captain.

“Callum is a huge miss because he’s also one of the players who makes a difference in the big games.

“You can understand why Ange wants him to sign a new contract. Everyone wants to keep their best players –and he is one of the top guys.

“I really hope they can keep him for the long term.”

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