CALLUM McGREGOR admits Brendan Rodgers’ stinging half-time criticism hurt as clueless Celtic toiled against St Johnstone in Perth.
The Hoops were a shambolic mess as they stumbled through 45 minutes of tedium to surrender an easy goal to the hosts who probably could not believe the team in front of them were the champions of the country.
Boss Rodgers winced on the touchline as he witnessed one of the worst performances from a Celtic side spread over this two years as Parkhead gaffer.
MIXED EMOTIONS…Callum McGregor has a discussion with Luis Palma after the game as Brendan Rodgers still doesn’t look too happy, despite the 3-1 win in Perth.
He gave them a well-deserved blast at the interval as he immediately withdrew Yang Hyun-jun, who had a particularly awful 45 minutes in which moves broke down at him as he was continually caught offside. It was sloppy from the South Korean who has a lot more to offer and it was no surprise he did not reappear for the second period.
Mikey Johnston took over and immediately the visitors carried more menace on the right flank.
McGregor was there as Rodgers served up a stinging verbal volley – and the captain agreed with every word from his irate manager.
The influential midfielder said: “As a professional, you never want to be called soft. That will sit with the players in three, four, five days’ time because nobody likes to get a sore one off the manager.
“You never want to be soft. That’s the one thing when you’re a good football team and people try to look for areas to exploit then the last thing as a professional footballer you want to be called is soft.
“That hurts the group. We have to take it on the chin and we deserved it. We can’t have too many moments like that because you’ll see teams will try to play on it. We’ve got to be better and stronger in those moments, especially when we are defending the box.
“It was definitely fair what he said. The first-half performance was nowhere near good enough to be a Celtic team.”
THE EQUALISER…Callum McGregor celebrates big-style after firing in Celtic’s first goal.
McGregor, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “We were miles short. The gaffer was spot on in terms of what he said. He was looking for a reaction and the pleasing thing was we rectified it and won the game.
“It’s important we keep winning. When you’re a team that sets high standards and drop below it then it’s the manager’s job to tell you then the players job to fix it.
”We spoke in the changing room before we went out that we’d got ourselves in that mess so we have to get ourselves out of it again.
“We knew we had 45 or 50 minutes to rectify it because we don’t want to drop points and everyone knew that. So, it was a case of trying to start well in the second-half and then the game plays out the way it did. The intent was there to get ourselves out of trouble.
“In this period, we have so many games you’ve got to keep winning. It doesn’t matter how, you’ve got to keep winning.
“Hopefully, when we get to the end of the season we look back on this 45 minutes as an important one.”
IT TAKES TWO…skipper Callum McGregor and boss Brendan Rodgers at the end of a dramatic encounter.
The Scotland international kick-started the revival with a sweet strike in the 67th minute that hurtled past Dimitar Mitov and Matt O’Riley thumped the visitors ahead 11 minutes later with a whizzbang effort that left the keeper helpless.
James Forrest completed a lung-bursting run to get on the end of a pass from Tomoki Iwata to fire in the third to make sure of the points.
McGregor has now claimed more goals – six – against the Perth club than any other side in the Premiership and the Hoops anchorman added: “That’s a nice stat, but the most important thing is the team wins.
“I knew I was going to hit it on the half-volley as soon as it dropped. It’s one of those you have to shoot. I caught it clean and knew as soon as I hit it it had a chance. It was a good strike and I was glad to see it going in.
“You see the fans get a lift and the players get a lift and performance levels go up another notch. Two other brilliant finishes from Matt and James takes the game away.”