LISBON Lion Bertie Auld has sent out a rallying call to the Celtic support: “Don’t panic!”
Hoops fans are concerned following the champions’ third Premiership defeat of the campaign with Hibs joining Hearts and Kilmarnock in taking maximum points off the Parkhead outfit.
St Mirren, Livingston and tonight’s opponents Motherwell have also held Brendan Rodgers’ side to stalemates to see the Celts drop FIFTEEN points in their bid for an eighth successive title.
In the Irishman’s first season in charge, he led his side to an unbeaten run on the domestic scene when they conceded a total of eight points after four draws.
Last term, they were beaten only four times in 38 outings as they completed the remarkable double treble.
But there has been a wobble in this campaign and Auld insisted even the great Jock Stein would have struggled to cope with the injuries that have been mounting up at the club.
He said: “Listen, my old club lost 2-0 at Easter Road on Sunday and some folk are reacting like it was a crisis.
“For goodness sake get real. Okay, it’s the team’s third Premiership loss and it followed only a matter of days after they had been beaten in Europe at Parkhead for this first time in this campaign.
“Two back-to-back losses shouldn’t have people pressing any panic buttons.
“Take a look at the team that started against Hibs. Brendan Rodgers has already stated he knows his best line-up at this stage of the season.
“I would be surprised if that didn’t consist of a back four containing Mikael Lustig, Dedryck Boyata and Kieran Tierney.
BOOKED…Celtic great Bertie Auld with author Alex Gordon signing copies of the Billy McNeill tribute book, ‘In Praise of Caesar’.
“None of these players was available for Sunday. That would be a bit like Big Jock having to do without Jim Craig, Billy McNeill and Tommy Gemmell for the European Cup Final back in 1967.
“The Boss rarely changed his defence, but he would mix it up with the forwards and switch things around almost on a match-by-match basis.
“However, Craig, McNeill, Gemmell and John Clark were virtually first picks in that era.
“Okay, it’s not exactly a parallel situation, but it must be difficult to sustain continuity when there are so many injuries and to lose three from four defenders is fairly brutal.
“But let’s not start thinking Brendan’s bubble has burst. The team are in the last-32 of the Europa League where we now play Valencia and there are bound to be additions to the squad by the time the first leg on February 14 comes around.
“The League Cup has already been won for the third season on the bounce and, although there have been some banana skins in the league, it is still in Celtic’s hands. As it stands at the moment, they are a point adrift of Rangers and Kilmarnock and have a game in hand over Steven Gerrard’s side and two on Stevie Clarke’s men.
“So, it’s not the worst position for the team to find themselves.”
Auld, a sprightly 80 year old, also had sympathy for Rodgers and his players who have hardly had the opportunity to draw breath since the former Liverpool boss’ arrival in May 2016.
He said: “The manager and his playing staff have been involved in the last two Scottish Cup Finals – beating Aberdeen and Motherwell, of course – and that means their season is being completed at the end of May and then they are playing Champions League qualifiers in the opening two weeks of July.
“That means they will be lucky to get four weeks off because they will have to keep fit through their brief period of rest knowing they face crucial European ties.
“There’s no respite and, naturally, it doesn’t help when injuries come along. Ryan Christie was playing absolutely brilliantly and then he gets a bad knock against RB Salzburg to join the walking wounded on the sidelines.
“Tom Rogic, too. He is a big-game player and there is little doubt these two would be in Rodgers’ best eleven. Of course, they were in the stand at Easter Road instead of doing their stuff on the park.
MIDFIELD MASTER…Bertie Auld strutting his stuff in his heyday.
“So, let’s not be too harsh. Yes, they didn’t play well against Neil Lennon’s side, but surely people can see there were mitigating circumstances and the situation was not helped by basic defensive errors at both goals. You cannot budget for players switching off.”
Auld also believes the Parkhead board will have to make funds available to the manager during next month’s transfer window.
He added: “We haven’t really replaced Moussa Dembele or Stuart Armstrong. They both brought a lot to the first team and it’s not easy to manufacture replacements.
“Dembele was a powerhouse up front who led the line well and Armstrong was massively under-rated, in my opinion.
“He was a real dynamo in the middle of the park, full of running, he took up exceptional positions and was a goal threat, too.
“How much did we get for these players? Something like £27million in total? I would be making sure Brendan Rodgers got a fair slice of that to bring in the players required for the remainder of the campaign.
“For the time being, though, I would ask the Celtic fans not to fret. I believe the unprecedented treble treble can be achieved.
“And always remember this – never write off a Celtic team.”
* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from this evening’s Celtic v Motherwell game at Parkhead – only in your champion CQN.