MATT O’RILEY knew the score following an early chat with new manager Brendan Rodgers.
The smooth playmaker was told his figures just didn’t stack up after the Irishman had scrutinised his personal statistics in his 18 months at the Hoops after his bargain £1.5million arrival from third-tier MK Dons.
O’Riley provided more goal assists than any other player in the Premiership which greatly impressed the second time-around Parkhead manager.
However, Rodgers wasn’t so convinced about the London-born former Danish Under-21 international’s striking rate – a mere FOUR in the team’s treble-winning campaign.
MATT FINISH…midfielder Matt O’Riley slots Celtic’s third goal past Aberdeen keeper Kelle Roos after a superb run and pass from South Korean new Bhoy Yang Hyun-jun (extreme left).
O’Riley had to wait until the 5-1 Scottish Cup romp against St Mirren at Parkhead on February 11 to score his breakthrough goal. It had taken 34 first-team appearances before that much-needed strike.
He added three more in 18 further top-side outings which provoked a brutal assessment from the manager.
O’Riley’s response has been immediate with counters in the 4-2 home victory over Ross County in the opening day of the campaign which was followed by the crucial third in the 3-1 success over Aberdeen at Pittodrie on Sunday.
The 23-year-old midfielder’s scoring rate is as good as that of Kyogo Furuhashi in this crusade!
Rodgers said: “When I looked at his numbers and everything else, I think I said to him you need to score more goals as he didn’t do it enough.
A BIG HAND…Matt O’Riley acknowledges the travelling support after Celtic’s 3-1 win at Pittodrie.
“He was a bit like Jamesy Forrest when I first came into the club. He didn’t score enough for the talent they had and I was looking at Matt from last season and his first goal was in [February].
“You can’t have that talent and be waiting that long. But it is all about arriving in the areas and finding composure to finish.
“I really like him, his build-up play is good, he takes the ball. He needs to work on his pressing and intensity, but he is a wonderful footballer and he is a good guy, as well.”
Explaining the discovery of his shooting boots, O’Riley said: “I think I’m trying less hard, to be honest. Genuinely. There’s not as much tension in my game right now. I was probably trying a little bit too hard last season just because I care so much and want to help the team.
“But I’m trying to relax a little bit more and get into the right positions. It seems to be clicking a little bit.
“I think, last season, in terms of our style, I was still able to get into the box. But this season I am probably coming onto the play a little bit more in terms of the role I have got right now.
BY THE RIGHT…Matt O’Riley fires in one of Celtic’s five goals in their romp against St Mirren in Paisley in March.
“So, I can probably see the playing building up a bit better, so I can pick my moment when to arrive in the box. For me, that is probably a strength of my game. Being able to see play develop and pick my moment.
“It was probably a time in the [Aberdeen] game where we had to weather the storm a little bit. I think that goal came at a crucial moment.”
Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I didn’t see a great deal of him. He was obviously at MK Dons and I know he was linked with moves down south as most Celtic or Rangers players are.
“I have watched all the Celtic games that have been on telly and I have seen his ability. I am really pleased for him. It was a good run into the box and he finished really calmly.”
The Hoops gaffer has a first-rate record in developing and nurturing young talent and he continued: “I always try to create that culture, but the responsibility lies with the player.
“I’ll design sessions and work sessions with my staff and you create an environment that is to develop and improve and, if you are clever enough, you take that on board and get better.”
PICK IT OUT…Matt O’Riley smashes a low shot into the Kilmarnock net for one of his four goals last season in Celtic’s 4-1 win at Rugby Park in April.
O’Riley, speaking to Celtic TV, added: “It’s obviously early days under Brendan, under a new style. We’re still adapting. However, I still think we still play some really good stuff at times.
“Consistency of sustained good performance will come with time. Three goals at a place like Aberdeen, no excuses, but the pitch was quite dry. It made it hard for us to play our fluid football. But, saying that, we scored some good goals.
“I think we are doing our best and it is only natural that it is going to take a little bit of time. Two years under the previous manager of really strong structure in terms of instilling it our minds, so it is going to take time to adapt.
“It’s a stupid example, but like when you learn a new language, it takes some time to adapt to learning something new.
“I think it will take time, however, we are still winning games. Which is important.”