JOE HART acclaimed the work done by Ange Postecoglou by thanking him for “making an old donkey like me feel young again,” as CQN reported in May.
The 35-year-old 75 times-capped England international keeper played down the remarkable part he had contributed in the rejuvenation of Celtic on their way to lifting their tenth title in 11 seasons while adding the Premier Sports League Cup which was won in December.
The veteran netminder’s crucial role to the Parkhead cause was not lost on former Hoops goal hero Charlie Nicholas as he looked ahead to the new campaign.
HART’S HEARTFELT HURRAH…keeper Joe Hart celebrates Celtic’s remarkable Premiership success.
The No.1 position is now settled after the previous season’s failure to impress from the trio of £4.5million Greek flop Vasilis Barkas, now on loan at FC Utrecht, Scott Bain, who will start this term as third in the pecking order, and Conor Hazard, on a temporary transfer at HJK Helsinki unit the end of December.
The former Manchester City shotstopper is now in pole position at the champions and Nicholas said: “We are in for another exciting Premiership title race and I think Joe Hart could be the man to keep Celtic as Scotland’s No. 1.
“Looking at the teams, I can see the former England keeper being the difference between Celtic and Rangers. Hart was a big player for Celtic last season and was as good as anybody.
“It will definitely be tight again because Rangers have strengthened, while Celtic are still in a position of strength.
“I was at Celtic v Norwich and the Hoops played okay. Both teams have game-changers and matchwinners, but it is defensively where I see Celtic having the edge and that is where Hart comes into play and makes the difference for me.
“He was a big signing for Ange Postecoglou’s men last season and I reckon he will be the difference for Celtic again.”
ROARING SUCCESS…delighted Joe Hart holds aloft the Premier Sports League Cup after the 2-1 win over Hibs at Hampden in December.
Nicholas, speaking to the Daily Express, continued: “Celtic are great going forward and will score goals.
“The defence is still vulnerable at times and particularly down the left-hand side. I know Cameron Carter-Vickers will be important, but I do think Hart will be key behind him.
“Celtic will score a lot of goals, but they have to try and limit chances and goals against at the other end. I think Hart can help them do that. The one thing about Celtic was that Hart was coming out as a third central defender.
“For me, it is a waste of time and an insecurity to say you don’t trust your two central defenders to pass the ball to each other. I don’t think Hart fancies it, either, but is doing it because the manager wants him to do it. That is the only negative I have seen.
“I was looking at the Celtic bench on Saturday and it is a lot stronger than it was last season. I am also intrigued to see the impact Harry Kewell will have on the team. I think Celtic’s squad is stronger.”
ALWAYS PREPARED…Joe Hart goes through his pre-match ritual as he gets ready for the action ahead.
Nicholas, who had two stints at Parkhead with spells at Arsenal and Aberdeen in between, added: “I look at Rangers and I said when they won the title a couple of seasons ago that Allan McGregor’s time was up.
“I don’t see McGregor playing at all other than the Premier Sports Cup. I think it will be Jon McLaughlin unless they bring in another keeper.
“Rangers certainly have a lot more strength and depth compared to last season outfield. I think they can cover as many positions as Celtic although their bench isn’t as strong.
“That and the goalkeeping department is where Celtic have the edge and why I think the Premiership trophy will remain at Parkhead this season.”
Postecoglou has also added strength to his goalkeeping department with the move for Swiss shotstopper Benji Siegrist on a free after spending four years at Dundee United.
He will almost certainly start as back-up to Hart with Bain dropping down a place.