BRENDAN RODGERS insists the fans will see the REAL Celtic as the champions prepare for the remaining six games on the title tightrope.

The Hoops led twice before having to accept a point in a dramatic see-sawing 3-3 stalemate at Ibrox yesterday.

The visitors dominated the first 45 minutes after taking the advantage in 21 seconds with Daizen Maeda’s goal, a quickfire reward for the Japanese ace’s persistence in chasing down seemingly lost causes.

Matt O’Riley dinked in a cute penalty-kick after the penny eventually dropped on home centre-back Connor Goldson that he cannot expect to get away with display his basketball skills in every derby confrontation.

Keeper Jack Butland also pushed away a close-range drive from Maeda where the Celtic speedster should have tucked the ball in an inviting corner and then defied a netbound header from O’Riley with the tips of his fingers as he somersaulted across his line in acrobatic fashion.

CELTIC HUDDLE…Brendan Rodgers and John Kennedy celebrate as the champions take an early lead through Daizen Maeda.

The inevitable spot-kick award to the hosts arrived with the pathetic Fabio Silva took yet another dive after Alistair Johnston had knocked the ball away in a tackle, but the defender wasn’t savvy enough to make sure his outstretched leg could not be utilised by the Portuguese.

The on-loan Wolves attacker did what he does best and collapsed writhing in imagined pain, referee John Beaton flashed a yellow card after yet another act of simulation, VAR’s Nick Walsh intervened, a quick review on the monitor was carried out and, surprise, surprise, the match official returned to the field, scrapped the booking and pointed to the spot.

James Tavernier didn’t even have the good grace to look embarrassed as he thrashed the ball high into Joe Hart’s net.

The 87th-minute equaliser was a personal disaster for Callum McGregor, who had replaced the tiring Reo Hatate just over 20 minutes earlier.

Abdallah Sima took the credit for the effort that obviously took a wicked deflection off the toe of the skipper’s boot to leave his keeper stranded.

SPOT ON…Matt O’Riley calmly places the ball behind Jack Butland for Celtic’s second goal.

Adam Idah, a second-half replacement for Kyogo Furuhashi, whipped one low past Butland 71 seconds later to restore the Hoops’ lead, but some remarkably slack defensive play from Yang Hyun-jun allowed Rabbi Motondo the freedom of the city to wallop in the goal that robbed the visitors of two points.

Next up it’s St Mirren at Parkhead on Saturday afternoon and the Celtic manager is adamant the team has the momentum to keep going in their quest for a twelfth crown in 13 years.

Reflecting on the Govan deadlock, Rodgers said: “It puts us in a really strong position. We still have a lot of work to do, still six games to go.

“But when you have your nearest rival still to play at home in front of 60-odd thousand and you know you’re going to be stronger again to that moment, I’m very happy with that.

“I said to the players afterwards, I can see they were disappointed they had not won.

“For a team that has been written off and told they are going through the motions all year, I think we definitely turned up. This is the business end of the season and we are ready to turn up.”

SMILES BETTER…Brendan Rodgers is delighted as Celtic go 2-0 ahead.

Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I have nothing but positivity in how mentally they were in the game. It will be immense and be huge for us.

“I am really pleased what I saw from the team and, knowing Callum will get stronger and fitter and Reo will, too, we are getting stronger. Now we can take that into the rest of the season.

“I am very excited.”

Looking at the spot-kick award to the hosts 10 minutes after the interval, the Irishman commented: “Disappointed with the penalty, that gives them a little up in the game whenever we were clearly the much better team.

“Ali [Johnston], who is on a booking, has to be really careful in the second-half with the timing of his tackles and I thought he was perfect with it.

“I thought the referee got it absolutely right on the field. He connected with the ball, the player simulates and it was right. So, clearly, then they score the penalty. It gets to 2-1 and then you expect something from Rangers.

“Then we get the third goal, a fantastic goal by Adam. It was just unfortunate we could not hang onto it, but we were undone at the end by a Kevin De Bruyne-type goal. [Rabbi] Matondo scores a brilliant goal.”

Rodgers added: “Listen, I’m not disappointed. Clearly, the game went on for another eight minutes, so the game’s never done until the final whistle.

“But we kept fighting and kept pushing and these games now with no supporters – and thankfully it’s the last games without the supporters – we had to stand up and be counted and the players did that. You saw that in the first half.

“I’m super proud of the team, how we played and managed the occasion. The first-half was absolutely brilliant. Couldn’t have been more comfortable in the game. Some of the level of our football, we attacked with the ball, attacked without it, and could’ve been more comfortable by half time.

“But the whole thing was leaving here with the performance and still with everything in our hands. I think what we showed was that the level of our football, players coming back to fitness, how we could deal with pressure and manage the pressure? So proud of the team.

“Collectively, the team was excellent. The only disappointment was we didn’t make one or two more opportunities count.”

As the dust settled on the skirmish in Govan, the champions can reflect on two wins and a draw against their nearest challengers, but we all know it’s the next six hurdles are the ones where Celtic cannot afford a solitary misstep.


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