ANGE POSTECOGLOU was beginning to see the fruits of his labours as Celtic overcame Ferencvaros 3-2 in Budapest where a three-goal blast provided by Kyogo Furuhashi, Filipe Jota and Liel Abada ensured European football for the Parkhead side after Christmas.
The beaming manager praised his hard-working front three, but once again emphasised it was a TEAM effort to overcome the Hungarians for a second successive confrontation in a fortnight.
Remember, this is the same side who obliterated the Champions League qualifying hopes of Neil Lennon’s team in Glasgow the previous season when they won 2-1 in Glasgow.
There was no chance of an upset on this occasion and the Greek-Australian gaffer said: “I’m super happy with the effort the boys put in. I thought our football was really good.
HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY…Ange Postecoglou watches Celtic win in Budapest.
“We scored three great goals and could have had a couple more. It was disappointing to concede a second because I don’t think it was a true reflection of the game.
“To come away from home and win is always a challenge in Europe, but to do it in the manner that we did is full credit to the players.”
Postecoglou was smiling again three days later following an eye-catching 4-2 triumph over Dundee at Dens Park where doubles from Kyogo and Jota eased the Hoops to three points.
The manager beamed: “It was a good performance, a strong performance. We played some excellent football at times and controlled the game and played it on our terms.
“We scored four great goals and we could have been a little bit more ruthless in front of goal.
“We were disappointed to concede two goals. We just got a bit sloppy for both and part of our progress is to understand that we can’t lose focus or take liberties with our game.”
THUMB’S UP…Ange Postecoglou shows confidence before Celtic’s 4-2 win over Dundee at Dens Park.
Postecoglou revealed he was also preparing for the January transfer window when he said: “We want to make sure we are well organised long before then, so we are going to identify targets and we will be talking to quite a few.
“There will be plenty of people putting their name forward because I think this is an attractive destination at the moment.”
The progress of the Greek-Australian was recognised with the first of five Manager of the Year awards throughout the season and he said: “I’d like to thank the players, coaches and backroom staff for all of their efforts because, as ever, whatever we achieve we do it together.
“Our football has been good and delivered some really positive results and will give us something to build on.
“We are grateful for the award, but realise fully that we have only just started and now need to keep working hard and, hopefully, continue to progress and get better right across this season and beyond.”
While Postecoglou got on with business in the east end of Glasgow, there were stirrings across the city at Ibrox where Steven Gerrard had been linked with the boss’ job at Aston Villa following the sacking of Dean Smith.
Asked about the situation, he responded: “They’re the kind of distractions I avoid, to be honest. I’ve been really laser-focused on here and I’ll continue to be.
“I’m just making everyone really aware that we can’t get distracted by anything or anyone else. We’re trying to build something and when you’re trying to build something, and be successful, you can’t afford to be looking over your fence at what other people are doing.
“We’ve got to build our house, make it nice and beautiful and then see how it stacks up against the rest of the neighbourhood.”
Postecoglou was zeroing in on his first piece of silverware as Celtic gaffer as he prepared his players for the Premier Sports League Cup semi-final against St Johnstone on November 20.
HEAVEN’S ABOVE…Ange Postecoglou can hardly bear to watch a Celtic miss.
He remarked: “When you join this club, in whatever capacity you come in, success is expected and standards of play and results are expected.
“Every competition we are in is a priority. I’m not discounting anything just because I happen to be new in the door and I’m not giving that allowance to the players who are new to it, either.
“We are all here for one thing and that’s to bring silverware to this football club because that is the expectation.
“We still have to get through a semi-final before we start thinking about that and that’s where the focus is.”
A 73rd-minute goal from substitute James Forrest downed the Perth trophy holders to set up a December 19 Cup Final meeting against Hibs who routed their Ibrox opponents 3-1 in their last-four encounter.
“This football club expects to be in Finals and playing for trophies,” noted Postecoglou. “There are no allowances just because we happen to be new in the building. We understand when we come to represent this football club they are the expectations.
“It was tough, but we expected it to be, it’s a semi-final and there was a lot at stake.
“St Johnstone are a tough team to play against in these conditions, but I thought we kept our discipline and kept calm.
“We didn’t get too frustrated that we hadn’t scored and got our goal at a good time and could have had a couple more.
“I thought the supporters were outstanding. They deserve to get to another Final and show again what a great crowd they are.”
Postecoglou also hoped his players had done Bertie Auld proud. The club great passed away the previous week at the age of 83 following a brave battle against dementia.
The supporters lit up the stadium in a spectacular colourful salute in the 67th minute of the often tense encounter against the stubborn Perth club – just six minutes before Forrest struck.
Coincidentally, it was the identical scoreline when Auld scored for the Hoops in the 1969 League Cup Final against the same opponents at the same venue.
CONFIDENT…Ange Postecoglou at Hampden before the League Cup semi-final against St Johnstone.
Postecoglou said: “Whilst we celebrate an immortal, it’s a sad time for those who love him and are close to him and, hopefully, we made them smile a bit by playing in the style that Bertie would want.”
Four nights later in Germany, the manager was forced to admit “there’s still a gap” between Celtic and Europe’s top-flight clubs.
Painfully, that was demonstrated again in the BayArena when the Hoops threw away a 2-1 advantage in the last 10 minutes to lose 3-2 to Bayer Leverkusen and crash out of the Europa League.
It was a tough watch as the visitors came back from a goal adrift to turn the contest on its head with a Panenka-style penalty-kick from Josip Juranovic to level before the interval and then go ahead when Filipe Jota completed a sweeping move which was started by the superb Joe Hart.
But the visitors couldn’t hold on for a historic first win in Germany when Robert Andrich, who had headed in the opener from a right-wing corner-kick, levelled after some poor play and lack of awareness from Anthony Ralston and Moussa Diaby thumped in the winner in the 87th minute with the defence in total disarray.
The Hoops chief said: “We are not at this level yet. We kind of hung in there, gave ourselves a chance to pull off a great result, but, ultimately, they’re a good team.
“Credit to our players. We came to their backyard and gave them a game.
“We weren’t able to control the game the way we wanted to because they have quality in their side and always a threat on the counter, so we had to be wary.
“Joe made some big saves and the back four worked really hard and we couldn’t hang on, but there’s still a gap between us and them and that’s what we need to bridge.”
It took a deflected winner from Callum McGregor to give Celtic a 2-1 home win over Aberdeen the following weekend. It had been all-square with the clock nudging towards the hour mark and the encounter was locked at 1-1 following Jota’s opener and Lewis Ferguson’s controversial penalty-kick equaliser.
YOU’RE IN MY HEART…Ange Postecoglou’s message to the Celtic fans.
The Hoops captain, who had a rare old tussle with his former team-mate and skipper Scott Brown in the middle of the park, moved to block a clearance from another ex-colleague, Jonny Hayes, after keeper Joe Lewis had saved at the feet of Liel Abada.
The Dons defender attempted to belt the ball downfield, but the Hoops onfield leader somehow got in the way and the effort rebounded from his left boot and ricocheted into the empty net for the decisive moment that made sure the team would remain just four points adrift of the pinnacle.
Postecoglou was adamant fortune had favoured the brave and said: “I don’t know about luck. If you put yourself in those situations often enough, then you know…
“We had a couple cleared off the line, we hit the post. Is that unlucky? I don’t know. In the end, I think it was deserved.
“I don’t think we were just grinding on this occasion. We were still bright in areas.
“Aberdeen were well organised and we had to find creative ways to break them down.”
November 4: Ferencvaros 2 CELTIC 3
Kyogo, Jota, Abada
November 7: Dundee 2 CELTIC 4
Jota (2), Kyogo (2)
November 20: CELTIC 1 St Johnstone 0
November 25: Bayer Leverkusen 3 CELTIC 2
Juranovic (pen), Jota
November 28: CELTIC 2 Aberdeen 1
* TOMORROW: Don’t miss the seventh thrilling instalment of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE tribute to Ange Postecoglou.