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‘GET OFF BITTON’S BACK,’ DEMANDS RODGERS

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BRENDAN RODGERS took the unusual step of criticising the Celtic supporters who he feels have been unfair in their criticism of stand-in central defender Nir Bitton after the events against Astana on Tuesday evening.

Bitton played for most of the matches against Rosenborg in the third qualifying round and helped Celtic keep a clean sheet on both occasions. The Norwegians subsequent home and away wins against last year’s Europa League Finalists Ajax adds a little extra context to that achievement by Rodgers’ side.

However shipping 3 second half goals in Astana on Tuesday evening was enough for some to look for a scapegoat and Bitton was targeted for his error for the third Astana goal.

He undoubtedly did lose his man, but didn’t skipper Scott Brown gift wrap the second, and maybe Leigh Griffiths should have scored to prevent the fourth, or Lustig could have put in a tackle or Gordon might have been better guarding his front post. This repeated lapse cost Celtic a clean sheet against Hearts on the opening day of the season and also cost Scotland very dearly indeed back in June when England’s Harry Kane grabbed a dramatic equaliser, sneaking his shot in at Gordon’s near post.

Not that we are getting on Griffiths, Gordon or Brown’s backs! These things happen.

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However none of that gets much of a mention but Bitton! BITTON!! A completely different matter that one.

Some supporters still hold a grudge against the player for his antics in that horrible Scottish Cup semi-final in April 2016. Long memories but it is a factor.

“The criticism of Nir is incredible. This is a guy who is a central midfielder,” the Celtic manager said this afternoon. You get the feeling he’s been waiting for a day or two to get this off his chest.

Bitton was a major doubt for the Astana game after picking up an injury on Kilmarnock’s awful surface on Saturday. Had Celtic had one or two central defenders available it is likely that the Israeli international would have sat the trip out and stayed on at Lennoxtown to nurse his foot.

“After Kilmarnock his foot was in a boot, he couldn’t walk for two days,” Rodgers revealed.

“Up until our last Astana session he just took his boot off and went out to train. I have nothing but pure admiration for him.

“This is a guy who is a central midfielder, that’s his position. I felt it was pretty clear that we had three of our centre halves unavailable to play, two of which had been unavailable for most of the qualification campaign.

“I’ve seen one report saying it was a £30m risk, you could argue it was totally the opposite, if we didn’t have Nir Biton we might not be in the Champions League.

“He filled in for us when others were injured, he brought a calmness and control. Of course, sometimes he got caught out defensively like others but he was able to get the job done.

“I think what happens when you put someone like Nir into the back four, you get something called confirmation bias. They try to look biasedly to confirm why the player shouldn’t be playing there.

“I didn’t see any comments when he stepped out of defence and made the pass that created the goal for Leigh Griffiths third goal or in Rosenborg when he came in and played fantastic.

“The solutions for us were very minimal, there were very few. So we looked to put Nir in there and a lot of our defending had to be based strategically around having the ball.

“If we didn’t have Nir we might not have been in the Champions League. He filled in for us when we didn’t have players available.”

Rodgers also revealed that the play the has described as his best centre-half, Dedryck Boyata is back in training but isn’t quite ready for a return to action.

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“Still got a bit to go, but nice to see him out on the training pitch. Still a few weeks away yet,” Rodgers revealed.

And new signing Rivaldo Coetzee should, all things going well, be announced next week, according to the manager.

“Rivaldo will hopefully come through his medical over the weekend. Will be a very good addition to our squad.

“He’s with his national team but we’d hope to complete the medical over the weekend and then we’ll see him after the international break.”

And as Coetzee gets set for his arrival, another former defender can’t stay away. Kolo Toure was in Glasgow and was invited to Lennoxtown this morning by Brendan Rodgers.

“I invited Kolo over to Lennoxtown as he was in Glasgow. Great to see him again, he’s a great man,” Rodgers said.

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