ANGE POSTECOGLOU fired back at the accusation the 2-0 win over St Mirren at Parkhead on Wednesday March 2 2022 “was a hard watch” as Celtic maintained their three-point advantage at the top of the Premiership.
The Paisley outfit set up a red-clad barrier in front of the Hoops and managed to keep their goal intact in the opening 45 minutes of what was turning out to be a frustrating evening in the east end of Glasgow.
However, the breakthrough goal arrived 10 minutes after the turnaround when Cameron Carter-Vickers, with his third strike of the season, volleyed in after a Filipe Jota right-wing free-kick broke off Carl Starfelt to his feet. The Spurs loanee didn’t hesitate as he belted the ball high past the stranded Jak Alnwick.
THE COACH…Ange Postecoglou demands more effort.
And skipper Callum McGregor made certain nine minutes from the end when he carefully slotted an angled drive past the keeper low to his left.
Joe Hart had not been required to make a direct save in a one-way 90 minutes-plus confrontation as the visitors set out to deny the Hoops.
Immediately after the match, a BBC reporter opened his questioning with this offering: “That was a hard watch at times. Is that fair?”
Postecoglou thought for a moment before replying: “It depends what you’re looking for – maybe you’re disappointed with the way it went, mate.
“I’m not really sure. We’ve won a game 2-0, they didn’t create anything, we dominated the football and it’s hard when the opposition sit so deep. I thought if anything we were good. We were solid, we stayed composed and did what we had to do to wear down an opposition that were sitting deep and defending well.”
Asked if he was expecting a tight conclusion to the season, the Greek-Australian gaffer answered: “There you are. I have all along, but you guys had a different view earlier on.”
Postecoglou insisted yet again he was not interested in how other teams fared. While his side were overcoming Stephen Robinson’s club, Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Ibrox outfit were also gaining three points with an early strike from Glen Kamara giving them a narrow win over relegation-threatened St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park.
PARADISE…home sweet home for Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou.
The Celtic manager added: “I still don’t know how they’ve got on, mate. I don’t care.
“It makes no difference to us. For us, what’s important is we know if we’re winning games of football we’re going to be in good shape.
“I’ve said all along I wasn’t looking at it six or seven points behind. I’m not looking at it now.
“What’s important, like I said, is what we’re doing. I think you’ve seen every game has an edge now, everyone’s playing for something and that’s great, it’s what you want. Every team will just be focused on themselves.”
Four days later, Postecoglou celebrated his 50th game in charge of Celtic with their first win over Livingston at the third attempt in West Lothian. Daizen Maeda got the ball rolling with a header in the 17th minute – shortly after Callum McGregor had squandered a penalty-kick – and James Forrest claimed the third in the crucial 3-1 victory which keeps the Hoops three points ahead with eight games remaining.
In between those strikes, the unfortunate Nicky Devlin deflected an Anthony Ralston right-wing cross past Max Stryjek for the second shortly after the turnaround.
Asked about display, the Hoops boss answered: “Yeah, very pleasing. We kind of know it’s a difficult place to come and win, more importantly, I thought we played really well.
“We were dominant from the first minute, we still kept our patterns, created good chances, they were always a threat from set-pieces, but that was really the only threat. They are a big side, so it always going to be a bit of a challenge for us, but I thought we handled it well.
“The key is to approach each game, every challenge, in the same way – and that is what we do.
“We thought the answers lay in playing our football. A good energy, a good tempo.”
Postecoglou brought back James Forrest to start in front of Liel Abada who took over from the Scotland international in the 75th minute when the manager made a raft of changes.
Speaking of the 30-year-old winger, the manager said: “Yeah, brilliant, he’s been working hard. As I said all along, we’ve put together a strong squad, people who can contribute, I thought James, Tommy Rogic, Tony Ralston gave us the energy. It’s three games in the week, I thought that would help us.
“I thought James was outstanding, he took his goal well, but I also thought he played well.”
Reflecting on the team’s last Premiership defeat at Livingston back in September, Postecoglou added: “The last time we left here, we were in sixth spot. It goes to show you, they, right from the start, even though they were difficult beginnings, this group of players, whatever challenge they had they’ve overcome and continue to overcome.”
The focus switched to the Scottish Cup eight days later on Monday with Celtic due to face Dundee United at Tannadice in their quarter-final encounter.
TANNADICE TRIUMPH…Ange Postecoglou celebrates a 3-0 win over Dundee United.
Postecoglou prepared for the confrontation by saying: “I have total admiration for the way the players have kept going physically during a really tough run of games.
“This team deserves great credit. We will see how the season unfolds in the end, but all of our players have embraced the challenges we have faced from the start of the season.
“We had guys coming in without a pre-season with us. Others didn’t have a pre-season at all. It was a case of arriving and getting on the pitch. Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi came in with just a couple of weeks off after playing the season in Japan.
“They went straight in and played a lot of football. Matt O’Riley went from League One in England, straight into Premiership football up here and adapted.
“Callum McGregor is another one who has really put himself out there for the team. You talk about the challenges, the pressure and the intensity at Celtic, but it’s a credit to these guys that they have faced everything this year.
“I’m sure they will face more, but the way they have dealt with pressure and adversity, without making excuses, is great.
“When things haven’t gone well, they haven’t made excuses and haven’t wanted me to make excuses. They’ve accepted responsibility for everything and it’s a credit to a new group of players who were thrown together in the last eight months.”
The Hoops made no mistake against the Tayside outfit with McGregor claiming the opener and Giakoumakis adding two after the interval.
Postecoglou watched his side set up a Scottish Cup semi-final encounter with Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Ibrox side at Hampden on Sunday April 17 and a fortnight before the clash at the national stadium, the teams were scheduled to lock horns in Govan in their third Premiership meeting of the campaign.
And, of course, the teams awaited a date for another league game at Parkhead after the split.
BEST OF ENEMIES…Ange Postecoglou with Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
Asked about the testing times against their city rivals, Postecoglou said: “Mate, they’re just games of football you need to win. The most important thing is that we’re putting ourselves in a position where those games mean something.
“We focus on the next challenge and don’t look too far ahead.
“It’s going to be great. It will be a cracking atmosphere. I’ve had two trips to Hampden and in both those games the atmosphere was unbelievable. I’m sure it will be a great atmosphere again for that semi-final, but we’ve got a few games before that to focus on.”
With the Premier Sports League Cup already in the trophy cabinet after the 2-1 success over Hibs six days before Christmas, Postecoglou quipped: “At the start, it was all trouble, now it is all treble.
“The important thing is that we are still in the competition and at this stage of the season we have given ourselves an opportunity for success.
“That is the expectation here. That expectation is on me and everyone at the football club. The players need to embrace that.
“We can’t think just because we have won a trophy already that it is going to be a good season. We want to win EVERY competition we are in and give ourselves a chance to do that.”
The Hoops took their unbeaten domestic run to 30 games against United and Postecoglou added: “We’re going okay, but the key thing now is to finish our stuff off. We’re in a position now where we can challenge.
“There are still eight games to go in the league. We’ve just got to tackle each challenge the best way we can. We’re getting players back and our training’s really good – they’re the kind of things we need to focus on.
”After a rocky start, our away form has been outstanding. We’ve been to Edinburgh four times, Aberdeen twice, Livingston twice, we’ve come here again – all tough away fixtures – and the boys have handled it really well.
“Away from home, we’re still controlling games and trying to be the team that takes it to the opposition. We don’t take it for granted winning away – it’s not easy away from home. Being able to handle that has probably been the most important part of our season. “
Celtic fans were getting more than a little concerned about the continued non-appearance of talisman Kyogo, but Postecoglou attempted to allay their fears when he named his squad for the home game against Ross County and there was no sign of the Japanese frontman for the sixteenth consecutive encounter.
Asked about the pacy frontman’s progress, the manager answered: “He’s been injured, mate, he hasn’t been kidnapped!
“He’s been here every day. He’s fine. He’s working towards it. I don’t want to put timelines on it, but look at Davie Turnbull, he was injured three or four weeks before and they are running similar sort of rehabs.
“Kyogo’s working hard and doing well. Hopefully, he’ll be back soon. The international break gives him a chance to do some more work, as well.”
THAT’S MY BHOY…Ange Postecoglou congratulates Giorgos Giakoumakis.
Once again, Giorgos Giakoumakis stepped up against Malky Mackay’s Highlanders and rattled in a hat-trick in a runaway 4-0 success with Daizen Maeda notching the other. The visitors completed the mach with 10 players after Kayne Ramsay was red-carded for a dreadful challenge on Tom Rogic who then took no further part in proceedings.
Postecoglou said: “Right from the start of this year, he club has been absolutely united in tackling what was always going to be a challenging season.
“I felt the whole club, fans, players, have all been in on this and it is why we are in the position we are in.
“Since round six we have literally had to be just about perfect to be where we are today.
“And to do that, any sort of distractions we have, had to be put to one side, regardless of other results or performances or people from the outside.”
Postecoglou, who saw his team rack up their 31st unbeaten domestic outing against the Dingwall club, added: “It’s very easy to succumb to anxiety at this time when the stakes are so high.
“It’s important that we keep playing our football and don’t shy away from that. That’s why it was important not just to win the game, but to make a statement about playing our football against a side that has been in great form.
“We need to stay really strong in terms of our resilience and our commitment to what we’ve started to do.”
FOCUSED…Ange Postecoglou gets his message across.
As Postecoglou prepared for the vital Premiership visit to Ibrox at the start of April, he revealed he was aware he HAD to win at least one trophy in his debut season as Celtic manager.
He said: “It’s been everything I expected. You don’t go into a role like this kidding yourself about what you’re taking on.
“I was under no illusion that I was taking over a massive football club, with a massive following and massive expectations.
“But it was what was appealing to me, that’s where I wanted to be.”
He added: “The reality of it is I had to come in this year and bring success to the football club.
“This football club can’t go two years without some sort of silverware.”
March 2: CELTIC 2 St Mirren 0
March 6: Livingston 1 CELTIC 3
Maeda, Devlin own goal, Forrest
March 14: Dundee United 0 CELTIC 3
McGregor, Giakoumakis (2)
March 19: CELTIC 4 Ross County 0
Giakoumakis (3), Maeda
*TOMORROW: Don’t miss the eleventh thrilling instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.