IT has taken Carl Starfelt almost five months to become an overnight sensation.
The Swedish international central defender returned to the rearguard against Hearts on Thursday night after a five-week absence with a hamstring injury.
And Starfelt was immense as he emphasised the sort of qualities that persuaded Ange Postecoglou to shell out £4.2million to Russian cracks Rubin Kazan for his services during his summer squad rebuild.
Kristoffer Ajer was about to join Brentford, Shane Duffy had returned to parent club Brighton after his disastrous season-long loan and there was no comeback date for Christopher Jullien following knee surgery after his sickening collision with a post in the 3-0 win over Dundee United at Parkhead on December 30.
RISE AND SHINE…Carl Starfelt leaps high to head clear in the 2-0 win over Motherwell at Fir Park in October.
As a matter of urgency, the incoming Hoops gaffer required defensive reinforcements and the 26-year-old Stockholm-born ace answered the SOS to agree a four-year contract with the Glasgow giants.
However, Starfelt failed to make a convincing first appearance when he was thrown into the back-line for his debut in the 2-1 loss to Hearts at Tynecastle on July 31 – only a few days after his arrival.
The fans remained unimpressed with the player, but he demonstrated his resolute strengths against the Edinburgh side in the 1-0 win on Thursday night when he put in a five-star performance in the absence of Cameron Carter-Vickers who was missing due to “personal issues”.
And Starfelt will line up against Dundee United at Tannadice in tomorrow’s High Noon kick-off as the Hoops go in pursuit of three more crucial Premiership points.
JUMPING FOR JOY…Carl Starfelt joins the happy throng after David Turnbull’s goal to make it 2-0 over Motherwell.
Discussing his gutsy showing against the Tynecastle visitors, the back four operator said: “It’s the first Man of the Match award of my career, so I’m happy.
“You are never 100 per cent sure about your fitness when you’ve been out and not played games and not trained so much, but I felt good.
“I found out quite late that I was playing and I don’t think I would have played against Hearts if Cameron had been here, but I was just happy that I could play and help the team get three points.”
Reflecting on the first league encounter of the encounter in Edinburgh, Starfelt remarked: “I think we’ve developed, for sure, since that match.
“Back then, there were a lot of new players and we didn’t really know each other. People had only trained for a couple of sessions, so I think we have got better since then and I feel that we still have steps to take to get better and better.”
A BIG HAND…Carl Starfelt, Anthony Ralston and Joe Hart applaud the Celtic support after the 3-1 win over Hibs at Easter Road in October.
The fixtures are piling up and the meeting with the Tayside outfrit tomorrow will be the THIRTIETH of a season that kicked off with a 1-1 draw against FC Midtjylland in Glasgow on July 20.
Starfelt, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “I’m definitely not used to this, having played in different countries. I am used to playing a maximum of 35 games a year.
“But I prefer this way, playing more games. Sometimes it can be too much, if you get injuries, for example, but I prefer to play games as it’s much more fun.
“It’s been two games in a week ever since I came. I don’t think there has been a single week when there was only one game, but I am enjoying it.
“I think the supporters are absolutely amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it and never seen anything like it. It’s a big honour to go out every game and have a full stadium of 60,000 fans. I’m just really happy to be at this club.
“I’d never played in front of 60,000 before I came here so obviously you are a bit nervous in the first game and it puts pressure on you, but now I am just enjoying it. The games are so much more fun when there are so many people in the stadium.
“The team is getting more comfortable in the way we are playing. We are getting to know each other better.
AIR WE GO…Joe Hart stretches to punch away a dangerous cross from Motherwell with back-up from Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers.
“I am not getting carried away with just one performance. I’ll continue to work hard, but I think we are all finding a little bit of security in our system and we are on a good run now, so we have to keep enjoying playing football and keep winning games.
“As a defender, you know that the opposition will have chances and against Hearts we were able to resist it. We also had great chances to score more goals.
“I’m more happy with the clean sheet and I think we showed some resistance at the end when they had one or two good chances.”
Joe Hart has not been beaten from open play in the last three domestic outings – only Lewis Ferguson’s penalty-kick for Aberdeen has dented his sequence – and the 34-year-old 75 times-capped England international keeper and Starfelt will be aiming for another shut-out on Tayside.
If Kyogo Furuhashi and Co do their job further up the pitch, another three points should be annexed in the quest for a tenth title in eleven years.