JOE HART made two massive saves to contribute to Celtic’s 2-0 Europa League first leg play-off final win over AZ Alkmaar at Parkhead last night.

However, the 34-year-old former England international keeper was swift to pile praise on his team-mates as they built a lead to take to the Netherlands for the return encounter a week tonight.

Hart’s excellent reflexes defied the Dutch in the early moments just before Kyogo Furuhashi’s opening goal – his sixth for the club – and the veteran netminder produced another top stop to dive to his left to push away a vicious angled drive.

James Forrest doubled the team’s advantage with a deflected drive in the second-half after a neat pass from the Japanese crowdpleaser, but there were moments of true grit from young defenders Anthony Ralston and Stephen Welsh which helped preserve the advantage.

S-T-R-E-T-C-H…Joe Hart gets his toe to the ball to divert a shot onto the post before gathering the rebound.

A beaming Hart said: “They really did stand up to the test. It’s great to have individuals, but for us to be successful it will take every single one of us.

“It’s the guys on at the start, the subs coming on when players are running on empty. it’s a real squad effort.

“It’s going to have to be this season, because there are so many games. We are going to have to rely on each other and rely on the system.

“We’re all as important as each other.

“Kyogo’s really showing up, isn’t he? He’s been an exceptional signing.

“A huge shout-out to Odsonne Edouard, as well. He came on in a difficult situation and he was superb. He really offered us something.

“It’s great to name individuals, but it really is such a squad effort. We are so early in the season and have such a long way to go.

“But, you know, there were big moments tonight and we stepped up.”

SAFE HANDS…Joe Hart confidently collects the ball.

Hart, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “AZ were fantastic. They brought their A game – but so did we. We really stepped up. We were brave and we believe in what the manager wants us to do.

“It’s tough football. It’s high intensity and the boys are putting their bodies on the line every couple of days.

“There’s a mixture of beautiful football and hard work and dedication.

“I thought the fans were fantastic – they really pulled us through.

”Next week against AZ is the last thing on our minds right now. We have a huge game at the weekend against St Mirren. We go again at 3pm on Saturday and then build up to the next one after that.”

There was an interesting moment near the end when Ralston was receiving treatment and Hart raced to the touchline for a quick confab with Ange Postecoglou. He obviously wanted clarification on one point.

With the clock ticking down, the netminder added length to his clearances to give the Dutch something else to think about.


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