JOZO SIMUNOVIC aimed a sideswipe at Brendan Rodgers as he opened the way for signing talks with Celtic.

The Croatian defender was often overlooked by the former manager, but admitted he believed he would get another opportunity because he reckoned the Irishman would quit the Hoops at some stage.

Simunovic barely featured towards the end of Rodgers’ two-and-a-half-year reign, but feels has gained more trust from Neil Lennon.

The 25-year-old centre-back, speaking to the Scottish Sun on Sunday, admitted: “At the end with Brendan, it was a different story. But what can you do? I’m Celtic’s player, not Brendan’s player.

“So, I just kept going and I was kind of expecting a time would come that Brendan would go.

“But now it’s a new page for me with a new manager and I’m not thinking about Brendan’s era.

“All you can do is be ready because you never know when the chance will come.”

ON THE BALL…Jozo Simunovic proves he is not drastic on plastic at Rugby Park.

Simunovic’s current deal expires in June, but the Hoops hold a 12-month option on his contract.

He started his first game since August in the 3-1 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park on Wednesday and kept the position for the 3-0 victory over Ross County yesterday.

The Croatian, who came on as a substitute in the 2-1 Scottish Cup victory over Partick Thistle last weekend, is focusing on regaining full fitness after undergoing a knee operation in September that ruled him out for the remainder of the year.

The player has struggled with a series of injuries since his £4million arrival from Dinamo Zagreb in 2014.

Simunovic said: “This is my last year. We’ve arranged a meeting to talk. We’ll discuss it, for sure, but it’s a not a problem for me right now.

“I just want to be ready to play and we have a lot of games left, so I believe my chance will come.”

Eyebrows were raised when he was chosen to play on the notorious artificial surface at Rugby Park during the week and the former Under-21 international said: “It was a good test, and everything was fine after the game. I hadn’t played on plastic since a game against Hamilton a few seasons ago, so, psychologically, it was a big thing for me.

“But I’ve been out for months, so I was desperate to play. I’d have played on concrete if I had to.

“I had a good conversation with the manager before the game and told him I wanted to play.”

THE HOOPS LAUGH-IN…Jozo Simunovic enjoys a lighthearted moment with Moritz Bauer befoore the Cup-tie at Firhill.

Boss Lennon admitted he would be keen to keep Simunovic as an integral part of his first-team squad.

The Irishman has been forced to play defensive midfielder Nir Bitton and his Israeli international team-mate Hatem Abd Elhamed, bought as a right-back in the summer, in emergencies as he lacks cover in the heart of his rearguard.

Lennon added: “I am pleased to see Jozo back after a time out. He did great for me at the tail end of last season.

“I’d like to keep him, I think he is a top player. He is pretty consistent when he plays and his best years are ahead of him.

“Jozo has a record of knee problems and that is unfortunate for him. But he manages it as best he can and when he plays he is a consistent performer.”



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