CHRIS SUTTON has told the Celtic players the onus is on them to prove Ange Postecoglou right in his team selection on Thursday night.
The Hoops boss sent out a much-changed line-up for the second leg of the Europa Conference League encounter against Bodo/Glimt in the Arctic Circle.
The shadow squad, including Liam Scales, Stephen Welsh, James Forrest and James McCarthy, all made an appearance in Norway while skipper Callum McGregor was among those who started on the substitutes’ bench.
The Parkhead men, trailing 3-1 from a frustrating first game in Glasgow the previous week, went meekly to the Euro exit after a 2-0 loss for a dismal 5-1 aggregate scorelines, losing home and away.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY…Chris Sutton believes Celtic could have made strides in Europe.
Sutton insisted his old club’s knock-out was “embarrassing”, but reckons the players can prove their gaffer correct if they overcome the challenge of Hibs in the midday kick-off at Easter Road tomorrow and keep the team on track for their tenth league title in 11 years after last season’s wretched blank.
The former striker said: “There is bound to be disappointment over the lacklustre way Celtic ’s European campaign came to an end.
‘However, even the supporters who braved the cold will accept it if the ultimate goal is achieved this season – and the huge prize of a Champions League group place that comes with it.
“That doesn’t mean the Euro exit gets completely glossed over.
“Losing 5-1 over two games to the champions of Norway is a bit embarrassing, to be frank.
“I don’t think anyone can deny the strides that have been made under Postecoglou this season. You look at the mess he inherited and how he’s got this team to the top of the table and you can’t help but be impressed with the job he’s done.
“But the other night in Bodo can’t be sugar-coated. It was a poor performance on the back of a damaging first leg and Celtic really have to do better.
THE SAVIOUR…Joe Hart prepares to deal with a close-range drive from Amahl Pellegrino.
ACTION MAN…the Celtic keeper spreads himself as the Bodo/Glimt forward strikes the ball goalwards.
TOUCH AND GO…Joe Hart gets his right hand to the effort to deny Pellegrino.
“I get the fact the league is the be-all-and-end-all this season – particularly with the potential rewards available.
“Yet this was an opportunity to go far in a European competition and it really feels like a chance missed.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “Shunted out of the Champions League qualifiers and scraping around the Europa League and now Conference League is not good enough for this club.
“We keep being told Celtic are a big European side, but the results haven’t backed it up in recent years, stretching back way before the current boss.
“Postecoglou gets a pass this season as he’s only started a major rebuild, but there will still be some regrets from this tie.
“There was a big fall-out over the team selection and I get that. Postecoglou said it was a freshened team rather than a weakened team and he wasn’t making Hibs tomorrow a priority.
“No-one buys that. You can’t tell me he would have put out that side if they were leading 1-0 from the first leg.
“But Postecoglou might have taken one look at that surface and though his main men were not worth the risk.
“It was still a strong team, but you only have to look at the bench. They had the best defender this season in Cameron Carter-Vickers, the two best wingers in Jota and Liel Abada and the club captain who has been absolutely vital to everything the side plays.
BODO AND OUT…Ange Postecoglou won’t shed a tear for Euro exit if Celtic are crowned champions.
“Chuck in the first choice full-backs and Reo Hatate and you know they are all likely to be back in at Easter Road.
“But I actually think it was a mistake not training on the pitch the night before. I can understand it’s just the way Postecoglou likes to prepare for European games, but this wasn’t a trip to Spain or Germany when you know what to expect.
“This was the Arctic Circle on a plastic pitch. When I was a player I liked going to the ground the night before and getting a feel for the place.
“You get a sense of the surroundings, get a feel for the speed of the pitch and the bounce of the ball.
“It’s even more important when you consider the fairly unique environment Celtic were heading to on Thursday.
“By the time they got to grips with the surface the tie was over. I just got the feeling they never really had the belief they’d turn it around.
“It should have been a big chance for the players coming in with a point to prove, but they didn’t exactly come to the party. It was a sloppy display as much as anything.”
CAPTAIN’S COMEBACK…Callum McGregor will return against Hibs at Easter Road tomorrow afternoon.
Sutton added: “What is clear is the pressure is now on to win against Hibs. They simply have to win or the decision in Norway will be pointless.
“This is a crucial time for Celtic. They haven’t been quite as fluent in the last few weeks. Since they hammered Rangers there was the Motherwell win and the first-half against Aberdeen, but it’s been more of a struggle at times.
“However, it’s been a remarkable turnaround to go from losing a league by 25 points to sitting three clear heading in to the home stretch.
“Now it gets real and with Rangers still in Europe, Celtic will get the chance to pile on the pressure by playing first over the next few weekends.
“That could be a huge psychological benefit – but only if you keep winning.
“At least the Bodo bench-warmers will be fit and fresh for Hibs tomorrow and they’ll need to prove the manager got it right in making the Premiership the priority.”