POSTECOGLOU: A YEAR IN PARADISE (February)

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CELTIC’S three-month search for a new manager came to an end on June 10 2021 with the appointment of Ange Postecoglou.

In another EXCLUSIVE series, we have examined the CQN FILES to look at the breathtaking impact the Greek-Australian had on the club with the Premiership title being handed over on May 14 in the midst of a carnival atmosphere in the east end of Glasgow.

Please enjoy Day Nine of our twelve-part series, ‘POSTECOGLOU: A YEAR IN PARADISE’, as we chart the months as they tick down to a massive celebration.

ON THE BOSSES…Ange Postecoglou and Giovanni van Bronckhorst greet each other before the Glasgow derby at Parkhead on February 2.

ANGE POSTECOGLOU witnessed his players kick off February in whirlwind fashion with a 3-0 romp against Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s bewildered Ibrox outfit to go to the Premiership pinnacle for the first time since August 3 2020.

Unfortunately, the month came to a conclusion with a tame scoreless stalemate against Hibs at Easter Road and in between those contrasting confrontations, the Hoops collapsed out of their third European tournament, beaten home and away on a 5-1 aggregate by the Norwegians of Bodo/Glimt.

The month got off to a rousing start with Postecoglou’s side demolishing the Govan visitors who had nowhere to hide as a tidal wave of green and white swept them aside with a double from Reo Hatate who then set up Liel Abada for the third just before the interval.

The 56-year-old Greek-Australian gaffer, with his side in pole position with a one-point advantage and 14 games to play, observed: “I have been pretty lucky, I have had some special experiences in my football career and this was right up there.

“From the moment we walked out, the wall of noise, the energy in the stadium was just outstanding.

“From my perspective, the anxiety grows because I wanted to repay that. I wanted the players to repay that and they fed off the energy in the right way. They rose to the occasion.

”We want to improve and we will have to, to be the football team we want to be.

“Being in top spot is a sign of our progression, absolutely, because we lost three of the first six, so we know how the Scottish Premiership works.

“We had to be almost perfect to get to where we are now. We have been under pressure for a long time, but it’s testament to the players’ character and the spirit they’ve got that they haven’t let that affect them.”

GLASGOW BELONGS TO US…two-goal Reo Hatate and fellow-countryman Daizen Maeda celebrate the 3-0 derby win in February.

Hatate took the spotlight in only his third appearance, but the manager did not want to promote anyone for star billing from what was essentially a team performance.

However, he said: “I am being asked about all the players. No-one has exceeded my expectations.

“I don’t want to single anyone out because I thought it was an unbelievable effort from the whole group.

“Reo is not fit enough yet, he has a lot of work to do and still has improvement to do, but I knew what I was getting – he is a quality player.

“He showed his temperament as well because on the big occasion when he needed to he had the quality.

“But he wasn’t the only one, led by Callum McGregor who was outstanding again. The fact he even played, he is the kind of leader people follow. It is a credit to him, he never ruled himself out from the first day, he knew how important this game was.

“He said: ‘I am going to play, I am fine, no problems.’ A lot of players wouldn’t have.

“You are talking about Liel Abada, 20 years old, and Hatate. We were so dominant first-half it’s only natural we would tire. Guys like Reo, Matt O’Riley, Giorgos Giakoumakis are not yet at the fitness levels, so it’s only natural that we drop off.

“But when we’ve needed to this year we have defended really well. I thought the back four was outstanding, Josip Juranovic was incredible. The whole team worked hard.”

Celtic had been flawless since the turn of the year with six successive wins and 14 goals scored and only three conceded.

DIDN’T THEY DO WELL…Ange Postecoglou applauds the Celtic fans after the 4-0 win at Motherwell.

After the romp against the Ibrox club, they were unstoppable in a 4-0 triumph over Motherwell at Fir Park where Tom Rogic netted a double and came close to a rare hat-trick with a shot that cannoned off the post in the second-half. Abada and Maeda chipped in with the others.

Three days later, it was the turn of Filipe Jota to step into the limelight with two in the hard-fought 3-2 win over Aberdeen at Pittodrie. Matt O’Riley also got on the scoresheet before the interval.

Postecoglou commented: “We are improving, the football is improving and the quality in the squad has improved.

“I do know there are more improvements in us, I know we can get better. For me, it’s always about that next layer and I see a few more in this team.

“I don’t think you can artificially manufacture that togetherness. It has to be organic and the key to that is the people.

“If you get the right people in the building then the environment grows from there because people respect one another and the privileges we have in doing what we love.”

He added: “Football has been one of the foundations in my life. Everyone I’ve met, including my wife, has been through football.

“I really appreciate the impact it can have on people’s lives, so we have to understand the position of privilege we have.

”I get a bit wary when people talk about momentum because it means you get on a surfboard and the wave takes you along.

“We’ve got to prepare ourselves the same way and respect every opponent, challenge and venue we play at away from home.

“I really still think we’ve got to make sure we keep improving, that’s our challenge.

“We have some really good depth in our squad and you saw that with someone like Tom Rogic performing really well, but you can’t expect that if he plays eight games in 28 days.”

BHOY IN THE HOOD…Ange Postecoglou covers up against the elements.

However, Postecoglou could not disguise his feelings in the immediate aftermath of the 4-0 win over Raith Rovers at Parkhead that put Celtic into the Scottish Cup quarter-final where they would meet Dundee United at Tannadice.

A first-half wonder strike from Liam Scales propelled the Hoops on the way against their Championship opponents, but it wasn’t until the 68th minute that the team could breathe a bit more easily following the close-range effort from Giorgos Giakoumakis.

Substitute claimed the third with a header and skipper-for-the-day Nir Bitton knocked in a late fourth from a rebound after watching keeper Jamie MacDonald push out his fairly feeble penalty-kick.

Postecoglou had stood grim-faced on the touchline as the rain swirled around the stadium and could be heard barking his disapproval at his players as they failed to maintain a high tempo which has become a trademark of his Celtic teams.

He was far from impressed with the performance, particularly in a tame and uninspiring first-half, and emphasised the team is “nowhere near my expectations” as he analysed the display.

The hard-talking boss said: “First-half was pretty poor, obviously when I’m making so many changes it’s going to affect the rhythm of the team and the cohesion, but even within that I thought we weren’t great first-half.

“We didn’t really work hard enough, didn’t move the ball quick enough, second-half obviously was a lot better and it was good to get through to the next round. It’s just that we’ve got certain standards about how hard we want to work and the kind of football we want to play, how quickly we want to move the ball.

“I just thought the first-half we were taking too many touches, we weren’t working hard enough off the ball and, while we were comfortable, that’s not what I want us to be. I don’t want us to be comfortable.

“That’s not taking away from the players’ efforts for quite a long time, the last three months our performances have been consistent and our results have been excellent – particularly since the break it’s been outstanding what this group has been able to achieve.

“But my role now is to make sure that they realise their potential. I think there’s more there and we need to keep pushing.”

Postecoglou was disappointed again on the Thursday evening of February 17 at Parkhead when he watched his side slump to a 3-1 loss against Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League. Too many home players failed to respond against well-drilled and well-organised opponents who picked off the home side with deadly counter-attacks.

The match was typified inside two second-half minutes when the hard-working Maeda pulled one back with a deft header from a right-wing cross from Juranovic, but the visitors simply went up the park, carving their way through the heart of the Celtic midfield, for Huge Vetlesen to fire in a long-range drive that flicked off McGregor and looped over the stranded Joe Hart for the killer third.

Postecoglou said: “Obviously, it’s not the outcome we wanted and from our perspective we weren’t able to reach the levels we were hoping to.

“We controlled the game for the most part, but obviously they got their goals and they were pretty clinical in the way they counter-attacked against us and we lacked a little bit of quality in the front third ourselves although we did have our chances, so we paid that price.

“It was disappointing because we got ourselves back into the game and we were controlling the game at that time – I think they probably had two chances in the second-half. The second one’s deflected and gone in, but you’ve got to take those hits and from our perspective it’s about making sure we dust ourselves off and go again.

“You could sit here and feel sorry for yourself, or realise that there’s still another game to go and we can turn it around. That’s the reality of it.”

Greek frontman Giorgos Giakoumakis, who had claimed just one goal in the first half of the season, stepped up to the plate in the next game when he collected a hat-trick against relegation-threatened Dundee who had former Celt Mark McGhee in charge after sacking James McPake. It was not a change that was destined to succeed.

Postecoglou applauded the powerhouse striker and insisted “there is more to come” from the 27-year-old forward who was now picking up momentum in the absence of Kyogo who had sat out the previous 10 games with his troublesome hamstring injury.

Giakoumakis has rallied to the call and has claimed seven goals, including the points-clincher against Hearts at Tynecastle last month, to keep the side on the right track on the domestic front.

BHOYS’ OWN…Ange Postecoglou and his players after another crucial league victory.

The Hoops boss said: “if you play as a striker at this club, you’ve got to carry the burden of being goalscorer. It’s as simple as that. There is no shying away from it.

“Everyone we have had in that position this year has delivered goals and he does, as well. In games like this, when we are not going to find a lot of space, you need somebody with presence in the box to finish off our good deliveries. He missed a couple, but scored three good goals.

“For Giorgos, in his pre-season he was injured most of the time. He has only really got going since the break. He is in the first couple of months of his Celtic career, so, of course, there is more to come from him.

“It is why I brought him to the club. The way a lot of opposition set up against us, a lot of bodies in the box, you need presence in there, it’s not as if we have a lot of space to run into.

“I know that’s where his strengths lie and it is just a matter of him gaining a little bit of confidence which he has, I think he has been really good for us the last few weeks.”

The European excursion came to a halt in the Arctic Circle the following Thursday as Celtic lost 2-0 to Bodo/Glimt and Postecoglou, who acknowledged his side had come nowhere achieving acceptable levels in both ties, allowed his obvious frustration to spill over when he snapped at a question from the Norwegian media.

Asked if he thought his side’s Nordic conquerors could go all the way and lift the trophy, the manager fired back: “Mate, come on. Ask their coach. Why do I care? Really. Do you think I really care who wins this tournament now? We’re not going to win it.

“They’re a good team, I hope they keep going well, but I couldn’t care less who wins the tournament.”

EURO EXIT…Ange Posetcoglou and Celtic lose out in the Arctic Circle.

He added: “It was a disappointing night. I think it’s fair to say that, over the two games, we didn’t perform at the levels we needed to.

“We didn’t deserve to go through and Bodo deserved to win the tie. We have lacked a little bit of the intensity we need to bring to these games. We were still a bit too passive at the start and conceding the goal doesn’t help.

“Irrespective of that, our performance levels were not anywhere near where they should be over the two games. When that happens, you don’t progress. It’s not where I want to be.

“We just didn’t perform. We have been pretty consistent this year in bringing a certain level of intensity and intent in our game and we haven’t for these two games.

“When you’re playing against good opposition in Europe, you get punished. That’s probably our two least effective performances in Europe this year.

“Even when we lost to Bayer Leverkusen 4-0, I still think we showed more intent than we have in these two games.

“We wanted to progress and we haven’t. That’s on to me. That’s my responsibility. We’ve got to improve.”

Three days later, the Hoops fired blanks for the second consecutive game in the goalless draw with Hibs at Easter Road and Postecoglou remarked: “Towards the end we had a couple of chances, but the ball didn’t bounce our way when there’s a lot of bodies in the box. it makes it difficult, the pitch is not great, all those sort of things.

“You need to be pretty precise, we just didn’t get the bounce. We controlled the game, we played it in their half. On another given day it would have been a different result.”

It was the fifth occasion the manager has seen his team fail to score in a league game, twice in losses at Ibrox and Livingston, and three draws with Livi in Glasgow, St Mirren in Paisley and now Hibs in Edinburgh.

Thankfully, there wasn’t a sixth zero as the campaign progressed.

RESULTS

February 2: CELTIC 3 Rangers 0

Hatate (2), Abada

February 6: Motherwell 0 CELTIC 4

Rogic (2), Abada, Maeda

February 9: Aberdeen 2 CELTIC 3

Jota (2), O’Riley

February 13: CELTIC 4 Raith Rovers 0

Scales, Giakoumakis, Maeda, Bitton

February 17: CELTIC 1 Bodo/Glimt 3

Maeda

February 19: CELTIC 3 Dundee 2

Giakoumakis (3)

February 24: Bodo/Glimt 2 CELTIC 0

February 27: Hibs 0 CELTIC 0

* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the thrilling tenth instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to the Celtic manager.

 

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